Aleppo Comes To Newark

Hind over Aleppo

Conventions are back! Much awaited and much anticipated we were back at The Other Partizan on Sunday October 10th and it was like we hadn’t been away 😊 Everyone was super excited and there were some excellent games on display although our chance to to view them was restricted by it being just the two of us this year and so our time was taken up with our own game.

Quiet before the storm

We took along our Syrian Civil War city streets game with the superb terrain from Task Force Terrain and had our streets populated by the crew of a downed Hind, Syrian Special Forces on a search & rescue mission, various representations of the numerous insurgent factions and Hezbollah units bolstering the government forces. The rules were Spectre Operations V2 which we are fairly confident with these days hence the numerous factions (9 different units in the end plus armour support) but as we were at a show and we knew we’d get distracted we didn’t deploy all in one go but rather fed them on as we went.

Syrian NDF deploy outside the police station

Elsewhere in the hall were some excellent games, none of which we managed to take a picture of, but from memory the outstanding ones for us were; a 28mm Plains Indians War game, excellent Indian village and what looked to be quite an innovative basing system – wish I could have stopped and chatted about this, a superb looking C18th game complete with star fort and two enormous galleons out to sea (I mean the size of the things you see in antique shops!), very visually arresting, an excellent looking El Cid game, although I couldn’t see Charlton Heston 😁 and a quite extraordinary 60/70mm ancients Macedonian v Persian game – wow!

Insurgents take the high ground

On the trade front it did seem a bit thin; the stalwarts were there, Foundry, Warlord, Empress, Dave Thomas, and Warlord and Foundry occupied a significant amount of hall space but I did have a feeling of something missing. This could of course be just not enough time to look around properly or the fact that October is now brimming over with conventions, SELWG on the 17th and FIASCO on the 31st plus Battleground and Warfare in November so maybe traders are taking it steady in the post pandemic times.

Insurgents clash with Special Forces over the downed Hind

In terms of attendees the morning seemed very busy and we spent a lot of time chatting with interested gamers and meeting familiar faces who we literally hadn’t seen for 18 months! Certainly by the time I got home my voice was gone πŸ˜‚. The numbers were a bit worrying in these post mask times and some people were wearing and some were not, we wore ours to start but eventually abandoned them due to the difficulty in conversing and with so many people not wearing it all seemed a bit redundant. The fact that the weather was kind to us meant that the double doors could be open so there was plenty of air circulation. What was very noticeable was that by 2.00pm the show was largely depopulated, why I have no idea but it was far more acute than ‘normal’.

Insurgents occupying a building

What did strike me this year, from a display gamer point of view, was that the little extras (the coffee vouchers, the free figure, the raffle tickets, etc) were not on hand which was mildly disappointing; hey there’s no rule that says they have to be available it’s just one of those nice Partizan traditions. Maybe with no revenue from 3 cancelled shows some of the costs had to be throttled back and I get that, we also didn’t see anything of the organisers either which was unusual πŸ€”.

Into the ruins

So, was it good to be back? Of course it was! Will we back next year? Obviously 😁. So many thanks to Laurence, Richard and the the Irregulars, well done.

Holowczyn Refought

Swedish vanguard crosses the river

Many, many, years ago we fought Holowczyn as part of a convention tour, simulating the ‘tour’ of Russia by Charles XII, culminating in the battle of Poltava, so 3 battles, 3 conventions, but we’ve never played it since so we thought we’d roll out the collection and give it a go.

Bieltz’s Grenadiers

For those not in the know, Holowczyn was the opening battle in Charles XII’s campaign against Peter the Great’s Russia which kicked off in the summer of 1707. By the summer of 1708 the Swedes were well into Russia struggling to come to grips with an enemy that kept retreating and burning everything – that sounds familiar πŸ˜’ but on June 30th Charles and the Swedes found themselves facing a dug in Russian army over the river Vabitich.

The long line of the column

In what would become his signature approach to battle, Charles opted for the mad idea 😁, so in the early hours of the morning of July 3rd 1708 he and his men waded across the river at an unguarded point, advanced through a marsh, deployed on the flank of the enemy and attacked. The Russians were slow to respond, not being sure whether it was a full attack or a diversion, and ended up conducting a fighting retreat in a confused and haphazard firefight. Further infantry reinforcements merely added to the confusion and when the Russians committed their cavalry the outclassed dragoons were swept away and the field was clearly in Swedish hands. It was however somewhat of a phyrric victory, Russian dead were 4x that of the Swedes but most of the Swedish wounded (around a thousand) would succumb to their wounds and the losses were mainly among the guard infantry, losses that would be felt at Poltava.

It took a while!

The reality of the battle was that Charles was attacking one division (Repnin’s – the biggest, comprising 2 brigades) of the three positioned along the Vabitch and was inserting himself between Repnin on the left and Sheremetiev in the centre while Hallart was out on the right; to the left of Repnin was Goltz’s substantial cavalry division of 3 brigades. The only other troops to get themselves involved was a brigade detached late in the day from Sheremetiev’s division. The Swedes comprised the vanguard foot brigade, commanded by Charles himself, featuring the 4 battalions of the Guard plus 2 other battalions, then a 2nd brigade of 6 battalions and finally a cavalry brigade featuring the Guard Cavalry & Guard Dragoons and 3 other cavalry regiments.

Charles XII

Looking at our collection we easily had the numbers (and we’d sold a third of it back in 2020!) and even had most of the named regiments/battalions, unfortunately only 3 Guard battalions but we reckoned it wouldn’t make much difference (it didn’t 😊). Measuring up the space that would be occupied by the battalions representing the actual number of Russian battalions behind the earthworks we reckoned they would need about 5 foot, give or take, so the 8 foot x 6 foot standard table would allow us to deploy them, allow space for the marsh and give space on the table end for the later Russian reinforcements. Our trusty river section we positioned 2 foot in and used the section with a pontoon bridge on to represent the crossing point (the Swedes did have pontoons but abandoned them – why do it the easy way?) and at that crossing point we constructed a substantial marsh. Along the rear of the Russian table edge we put on plenty of trees and down part of the left flank; into these we placed Goltz’s cavalry division (on the left) and Renne’s reinforcing infantry from Sheremetiev (on the right) while in the centre behind Repnin’s division we put on the army camp.

Swedish field artillery

Our thinking with the Russians was that Repnin’s 2 big brigades would be positioned facing out across the river and wouldn’t start responding until the Swedes emerged from the marsh and then only the brigade that could see them (Schweden). The reinforcing cavalry and infantry could only be activated by Repnin finding out from Schweden that they were under attack and sending a message off to Goltz who would then roll a D6 for the number of turns after receipt for when he could start to emerge, said messenger would then carry on to Renne to release his infantry using the same process. The process was made deliberately slow (wargamers are very good at responding to things they can’t see unless you stop them πŸ˜‰) which is just as well because both reinforcement commands rolled a 1! Deploying the Swedes was more straight forward as they only had one route so we strung out the infantry battalions, led by the Guard, all the way from the table edge, across the pontoons and into the marsh with the 1st Guards on the edge of the marsh, somewhat disorganised, ready to go; this signalled the start of turn 1. As a side note, the Swedes, for once, out gunned the Russians so we placed some regimental guns next to the crossing point to fire in support and some big field guns on a low hill to pound the entrenched Russians, the Russians only had regimental guns strung out along the line.

Guards face off to the Grenadiers

Rather than go balls out, the Swedish commander decided to remain stationary with the 1st Guards to shake the accumulated disorder and wait for the 2nd Guards form up alongside and do the same, this gave the Russian grenadiers time to about face and wheel out of their entrenchments to face off and allow the Russian high command to panic and send for help.

Repnin and Schweden

With the grenadiers and Guards in range both opened up on each other at effective range, losses were even, so no morale failures and the rest of Schweden’s command started to turn about as more Swedes emerged from the marsh. Another volley and Charles decided it was time to force the issue so the 1st & 2nd Guards moved into close range and fired again forcing one of the grenadiers to rout and punching a hole in the the shaky Russian line.

1st Guards

First brigade morale test of the day (due to the grenadiers rout) and Schweden’s brigade failed spectacularly, hotfooting along the entrenchments and into the camp. Fortunately Repnin and Schweden were able to rally some of the units further back and start to restore order but they would now count as a failed brigade for any further tests which for Russian morale was always going to be a worry. The collapse enabled Dalcarian (2 battalions) and the 3rd Guards to get out of the marsh and form up with the 1st & 2nd into a fairly coherent line while Sparre and the other brigade marched on through the marsh to eventually emerge at the top end and march south on the other side of the camp.

Rallying the troops

As Repnin and Schweden tried to stem the flight Goltz received the request for help and rolled his 1 so Illfland’s brigade was first out of the woods and headed along the top edge of the camp in what would become a collision with Sparre. Back with the Guards, Charles went all out now and threw the 1st & 2nd into close combat with the rallied Russian foot, who of course had almost no losses at this point and managed to repulse the Guards, shouts of “huzzah”. Testing for losses the 1st Guards failed and routed but the subsequent brigade test was passed with ease (it helps having Charles XII as your brigade commander πŸ˜‚) and the 1st were rallied by him pronto but sat out the hard action for a while as they called in stragglers and tended to the wounded.

That’s a lot of cavalry!

While the infantry slogged it out on one side of the camp Illflands dragoons advanced on Sparre’s infantry, who due to the terrain could only deploy two battalions abreast, but non the less Vasterboten forced Narvski back and slowly ground forward – the dragoons were never going to charge the Swedish infantry so it became a shooting match which for a while the dragoons did ok in but eventually legged it for the woods.

Vasterboten v Narvski

Seeing how ‘well’ Illfland was doing Goltz realised that his other two brigades were going to be no use in the limited space so made the fateful decision to send them both into the woods to outflank Sparre and attack the rear of the Swedes; a bold plan which the Sparre player could realistically not respond to and was a calculated gamble by Goltz that he could be through and out before the Swedish cavalry under Creutz got through the marsh. An alternative plan could have been to dismount in the woods and fire on the flanks of Sparre’s command which might have forced him to stop and deal with the threat – we discussed this after the game and the Goltz player took the view that as the real Goltz didn’t do it neither would he!

If you go down to the woods today…..

Back at the real battle 🀣 Charles and his brigade were definitely in and amongst the entrenchments facing off to a hastily constructed second line by Schweden which Chambers was extending out to the right effectively forming behind Illfland’s withdrawing dragoons – the size of Chambers brigade (9 battalions) made cohesion quite difficult in the space available and we could see why in the real thing they just faded into the woods.

Guard cavalry

To force the issue in the main battle area Charles summoned the Guard Cavalry & Dragoons from Creutz along with Nyland to punch Schweden’s already weakened brigade; this was a risk, it weakened Creutz’s command and if the Guards didn’t do as well as envisaged they wouldn’t have their commander to rally on. Always willing to “roll the hard six” the Swedish cavalry blasted their way in and made some big holes although the Dragoon Guards did pay for a reckless pursuit and got themselves shot up πŸ˜’


Unfortunately for the Russians the holes punched by the Swedes was in Chambers brigade and in the ensuing test for routing units and having Schweden’s failed brigade on their flank the big brigade failed and ran for the woods. Not surprisingly, Schweden’s already shaky brigade didn’t survive their test and they too duly headed for the woods.

“you’re going the wrong way!”

While all this was happening Heinsk’s dragoons emerged from the woods, somewhat disorganised, but all they needed was a bit of a breather and they could catch Sparre by surprise. Even better was the emergence of the lead battalions of Renne’s infantry from their wood. It could all be saved!

Oh dear

Unfortunately for Goltz and Heinsk, regiment Hielm of Creutz’s reduced command had other ideas and charged home smashing the lead dragoons off the table who routed through their brethren behind who were caught in the pursuit and equally smashed resulting in a brigade morale failure (surprise😁) and the end of the flank move.


That was really it, both infantry brigades were on the run, Illfland’s & Heinsk’s cavalry were shattered and running, while Hesse Darmstadt cowered in the woods; the fact of Renne’s arrival was insignificant, yes it was a substantial brigade (6 battalions) but what was it going to do? Clearly a substantial Swedish victory.

It’s all ours

When we analysed the game the Russians initially did better than their historical counterparts – well they stood and fought! but low morale and poor command levels meant they were never going to last that long once things went wrong. I think it’s interesting that wargamers will stand and slug it out even when the odds are stacked against them unlike the historical prototypes who couldn’t get off the field quick enough – mind you it wouldn’t have been much of a game if the Russians had just turned round and retreated! For the Swedes bold play paid off, so very historical but the casualty tables also equated to history with the Guards showing the kind of casualty figures that would make a general think about amalgamating regiments, everyone else was pretty much insignificant.


It was nice to give the GNW collection a run out, good job we didn’t sell the whole lot! The rules were our own ‘Ga Pa’ – oh how original, we hope you enjoyed the write up, feel free to fire in any questions.

Ian & Dave.

Afghanistan Rescue

The quiet before the storm

This game was born out of wanting to use our new toy, a Cougar MRAP, and to get back into playing Spectre Operations again with a ‘small game’ to re learn the rules. We would have put it up on LAF but the archaic rules about post 2000 conflicts and our last interaction with the site put us off even trying.

3D print

Our basic scenario was an Afghan police station is under attack by increasing numbers of Taliban who have infiltrated the town disguised as civilians. The police are a small squad with their own leader but happen to have a senior leader in the building which will help with their command roles. The Taliban comprise three battle groups of around ten men each spread in a crescent through the town and already in small arms range.

The cop shop

Due to the presence of civilians senior command has rejected a danger close airstrike and opted for calling in two nearby SAS teams to effect a rescue.

The hard men

After dicing for random entry points for the SAS we got underway; Red team approached on foot from the east and immediately sent Trooper Winner off with the FN Minimi to find higher ground, Sgt Phillips, Cpl Firmin & Trooper Horsfall, headed for the rendezvous point at the central market, motioning civilians to go home (ironically); Blue team approached from the south in the Cougar with Cpl Curry manning the HK GMG.

Red team

The opening firing was solely between the police and Taliban; to the north of the town Hajji Barri’s group manoeuvred from the buildings they were occupying towards the hesco barriers, exchanging shots with Pvt Berri who was covering the side door and who managed to seriously wound Barri – realising their leader would bleed out the group left him to be with god and pressed their attack.

Barri’s group

Almost directly opposite the police, Rezza Jaffar Abbas and his fighters were getting themselves into better positions with a sniper and RPG on resident’s roofs as the citizenry cowered inside, covering this positioning with AK fire from the rest of the group.

Abbas’ team get into position

To the south west Ahmed Ali and his group moved out of the compound toward the market place, planning to flank west and around the side of the station – this didn’t go well.

Ahmed Ali urges his men out into the market place

Although the air was fairly thick with AK fire casualties were at a low level so far, the police station walls proved effective and Captain Gul urged the small police team on (in other words his command level prevented them becoming suppressed and rallied them if they did); all this changed however as the Cougar nudged its way into the open.

Cougar appears as Ahmed Ali’s group advances out of their compound

Seeing a group of armed insurgents at nine o’clock Cpl Curry let rip with the grenade machine gun (we’d never used one of these before – bloody hell!)

First salvo from the GMG

The firing wasn’t entirely accurate but the drift took out the sniper team on the roof of the compound (pure luck) and dropped a couple more fighters at the compound gates; Ali and several of his lieutenants took cover at the water trough by the market stalls and hoped their RPG guy would take out the metal monster.

RPG fighter gets ready just before the first salvo

Unnerved by the barrage the RPG fighter missed his shot and sent the rocket into the building behind the Cougar killing a man and his son with the falling masonry.

collateral damage

While mayhem reigned in the market place the other two groups pressed their attacks, avoiding losses from police RPG fire…

RPG miss

but not missing themselves when they put a shot into the room containing Sgt Alamyar, killing him outright.

death of Sgt Alamyar

Fighters from Ali’s group reached the south west corner of the police station giving a clear shot at the soldier defending the sandbagged front entrance…


and the fighters from Barri’s group had reached the hesco barriers, pouring more fire into the police station.

fighters closing in

The SAS teams were acutely aware that the battle was moving away from them so another salvo from the GMG went in on the market place with slightly better grouping, taking out Ali and his lieutenants behind the stone trough and effectively finishing off that group. At the same time Sgt Lane and Trooper got out to lend their small arms weight to Red Team.

death of Ali

With the soldier at the front entrance down, Captain Gul realised that every gun now counted so picking up the discarded weapon he joined the fight only to be picked off by Abbas’ sniper on the opposite roof.

Captain Gul

More pain for the police followed, their lmg man went down to concentrated AK fire and an RPG into the front entrance took out the police RPG guy just as he steadied himself for a shot.

Afghan fighter narrowly avoids becoming collateral damage

Cpl Curry now turned his attention to the Abbas group on the building ahead who also realised there was a big noise behind them they needed to do something about. However better training won out and Curry got his shot in first, raining death on the building.

“stop shooting at my house!”

Abbas, one other fighter and the sniper died in the barrage but Curry was out of effective targets now and the market place was more congested than aerial reconnaissance had suggested so it was over to the foot sloggers.

Red Team

Despite the loss of three leaders the Taliban were still very much in the fight and with the fire from the station ending (morale had collapsed and everyone was either dead, bleeding out or stunned) closed in on their prize.

victory in their grasp

In the town the wisdom of dispatching Winner to find higher ground paid off when a sneaky Taliban RPG fighter in a side alleyway revealed himself for a side shot on the Cougar but, again, superior training won out and Winner cut him half.


Despite the losses it couldn’t be denied that the Taliban had achieved their objective and the SAS had not. The police station was set on fire as the Taliban pulled out leaving behind a dead senior Afghan officer and a brave police section who had died fighting to a man. The SAS had barely fired a shot other than the mayhem wrought by the GMG and although the Taliban losses were around the 50% mark that didn’t matter in terms of the propaganda victory.


We had great fun with this game, we got back into the rules a lot quicker and easier than we thought we would and managed to operate 6 different ‘factions’ with relative ease. The GMG is a monster and in a different game we would need to beef up the Taliban with more serious firepower – recoilless rifles etc.

Looking back over the game we didn’t actually play that many turns but in the average Spectre turn a lot can happen in the phases and each ‘faction’ gets a full go so there’s more going on than you think. Overall it seemed to capture the kinetic energy of up close modern contact without too much bookwork so we came away happy.

We hope you enjoyed our AAR, please feel free to comment. Thanks. Ian & Dave.

The Welsh French Came To Visit

So finally I got to host a game for Lord Raglan and repay his hospitality from 18 months ago! As Gareth is getting into Italian Wars in his usual full on style we decided a game at my place might be a nice little motivator.

I chose the armies from the lists to our rules and set out the terrain but deployment had to wait until Gareth arrived and had time to study the ground on behalf of his majesty King Francis I. The Spanish Imperialists, under Don Antonio de Leyva chose to have a powerful infantry centre and punchy cavalry left wing; the right, behind the river, was home for the camp, the guns and a solitary Italian crossbow unit. The Spanish foot, under d’Urbina. formed the first line of the centre alternating shot and pike units across the front with a second line of two landsknecht pike, under Frundsberg, behind the shot to fill the gaps as they fell back, the left was formed of five cavalry units in line being a mix of Archers and Knights, under de Leyva himself, supported by two units of condottierre, under the Marquis of Marignano, behind them; in a fit of stupidity the Imperial commander (me) completely forgot about the wooded pond on this flank and so when it came to deployment realised that the Swabian & Burgundian knights were right behind it! The French opted to deploy the bulk of their Gendarmes & Archers in the centre supported by Gascons, under Vicomte Lautrec, where the going was better with the Swiss on the centre left and two units of Italian mercenary horse supported by Archers, under La Palice, on the far left; the right wing was the the Italian mercenary command under the Marquis of Saluzzo comprising two units of condottierre and two units of crossbow just behind the villages.

The opening moves saw a general advance all along the front as much as the skills of the generals would allow – each General has a Military Skill, ranging from 1 to 5, which is the number of units he can attempt to activate, usually the units outnumber the skill level. The French advance was a bit more disjointed than the solid central infantry block rolling forward on the Imperial side, on the far left the Italian cavalry just would not move and after several turns of La Palice urging them forward (and using up valuable skill points) they were left to their own devices, on the right Saluzzo was having trouble negotiating the villages which both slowed and disordered the condottierre of Malvezzo & Pitigliano; that said, the Imperialists had their own motivational problems with the condottierre of Varolo & Bentivoglio but it didn’t matter too much because the Swabian & Burgundian knights were going so slowly through the ponds!

Apart from some desultory firing, the first real action was on the Imperial left where Count Porto’s men at arms (the ones not stuck behind a wooded pond!) charged Malvezzo’s cavalry as they cleared the villages and scattered them (a specific morale failure rule were each base/squadron goes in a random direction until rallied, looks quite messy and renders the unit out of action for a couple of moves), the glory was short lived however as the charge exposed their flank to Longueville’s Archers who scattered them in turn with some well placed crossbow bolts.

In the centre, the bulk of the Gendarmes & Archers quickly realised that taking fire from the Spanish arquebusiers was not going to win them anything so a series of glorious charges were launched (and it was glorious to watch) which did see off Zamudio’s arquebusiers but Biron & Grammont’s gendarmes along with Lorraine’s Archers fell beneath Spanish pikes, with Grammont himself losing his life. All was not lost however as de Prie’s gendarmes utterly shattered the Burgundian knights and von Schaumburgs Archers and in the pursuit captured de Leyva who stupidly hadn’t got out of the way!

Despite the loss of their commander (and his skill points) the Imperialists fought on and on their left Bentoviglio’s condottierre surged forward and saw off their opposite numbers under Pitigliano which should have seen their way clear to the French camp but the two Italian crossbow units had managed to get themselves into decent positions amongst the buildings and halted any further advance thus effectively ending the action on that flank.

As the day wore on the action inevitably transferred to the centre as the opposing foot neared each other. The Imperial plan of alternating the shot and pike units along the line had worked so far but with Zamudio gone on the right and the Burgundians destroyed on the left, the flanks were open and de Prie and Montmorency were roaming free forcing the landsknechts to form schiltron to prevent their flanks being attacked – although the cavalry units were quite small the flanks of a pike unit could do very little against a charge; this left Ramassot to face the Swiss avalanche alone and despite some valiant fighting his unit gave way with heavy losses.

With the light fading the chance of a decisive victory was fading with it. The collapse of Ramassot left Frundsberg’s block to face both Swiss columns and although this was a veteran block the result would eventually only go one way. Sittlich’s block was pinned waiting for de Prie’s inevitable charge which it would crush but this meant it couldn’t help Frundberg. In the middle of the field the advance of Cardonna’s pike flanked by the arquebusiers of Arriaga & Romaeo was pretty much unopposed other than by the less than effective Gascons and they could look behind to see the Swabians and Varollo moving up to support.

Night fell and what did we have? The Swiss had powered on through and made a hole and were pretty much unassailable, the competing condottierre had cancelled each other out on the village wing and in the middle of the field the remaining Spanish were as isolated as the Swiss.

Marginal French victory we thought, mainly due to the Swiss and bonus points for some glorious gendarme charges.

Overall I think we had a reasonable approximation of an Italian Wars battle, as much as we can tell from the information available to us, the rules played well and Gareth seemed to pick them up pretty quickly which is always a relief as a rules writer. Most importantly we had fun and hopefully it wont be 18 months to the next one!

Street Fighting In Syria

This was a game of firsts. Our first for a couple of months due to Dave being laid up after his surgery, our first modern game for 18 months and our first game with the new terrain set up.

Originally we planned to use our go to modern set, Spectre V2, but when it came to it we thought “well seeing as we’ve completely forgotten Spectre and we know we’re going to spend loads of time chatting, let’s try a set we’ve never played, it couldn’t be any worse!” So out came Black Ops which we bought over two years ago and never played!

Our scenario was a Syrian army detachment has been left holding two political prisoners in a district police station somewhere in battle torn Aleppo and are awaiting a prisoner transport vehicle – to be randomly decided by a D6 for the turn and a D8 for the street it was arriving on, which actually turned out rather well, turn 3 for arrival and the street right next to the police station. To the north of the station, just beyond the hospital, two cells from Liwa al Tawhid were forming up to storm the station. Objectives were simple, for the army, get the prisoners into the transfer vehicle and off table, for the insurgents, capture the police station and eliminate the defenders, releasing the prisoners would be the icing on the cake. If things got hairy for either side random reinforcements were available, for the army, a Hezbollah detachment was active to the north and could be contacted, for the insurgents, further cells could be activated (or not).

The game started with a growing crowd of locals protesting outside the police station inconveniently being filmed by a western press crew so the usual government response was somewhat muted – the rules had civilian response and movement rules which we freestyled with until the shooting started and then had them running for the nearest cover; one of the civilian figures was depicted carrying a large holdall which we decided could be deadly if she got close to anything military but as it turned out, not this time πŸ™‚

The insurgents opened the game with Amer Soudani’s cell moving east to attempt a junction with Etai Luskin’s cell who were themselves heading toward the hospital, aiming to use it as a secure location from which to fire on the police station.

Both cells dropped off their support weapons guys to act independently, Soudani sent Abu Bakr south with his RPG to target the parked up army BTR60 and Luskin sent his sniper, Ruslan Auchev, into one of the apartment blocks. The army contented themselves with trying to move on the civilians and intimidating the film crew while the BTR crew played cards inside the station.

The first serious action was when Luskin’s technical roared down the street, under the hospital entry balcony (right behind the film crew!) and let rip with the mounted mini gun at the soldiers in the street. Poor training meant the shots missed but it did send the soldiers, the news crew and the nearby civilians running for cover – most of the non combatants headed for the side door of the hospital and remained there for the rest of the game. The soldiers in the station who were at the windows fired back, mainly ineffectually but sheer volume of fire did drop the gunner seriously wounded and showered the driver in glass.

Unfortunately for the technical this was the arrival time for the BMP prisoner transfer vehicle (nothing but the best) which after a bit of a delay got off an equally poor shot …….

which set the technical on fire causing the driver, Rashid el Andouri to bail out and head for cover.

Inside the station a lot of shouting by Sgt Tariq Ahmed (and dice rolling by me) got the reluctant BTR crew up and into the vehicle to roll out onto the street in the direction of the firing which rather neatly presented their rear to Abu Bakr lurking in a store front.

Now things were getting serious. As the BMP pulled up outside for the prisoner transfer the station was rocked by an explosion, Bakr had missed the BTR and hit the building! On the street Cpl Imir Shah led a section out past the burning technical and across the intersection searching for insurgents, one half of whom (Luskin) were infiltrating the hospital while the other moved up with the second technical.

The 2nd technical and Soudani’s cell started exchanging fire with Shah’s unit which went on for several turns and ultimately led to the death of Shah and one of his team.

During the firing across the street the other RPG guy from Soudani’s team damaged the BMP enough for it to be unusable for troop transfer although he did lose a fighter to army automatic fire.

After its reluctant start the BTR60 proved its worth, shooting up the technical and then brewing it up completely.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the RPG guy from Luskin’s team in the hospital took out the BTR. Sgt Ahmed desperately got on the radio as his men exchanged fire across the street at the hospital windows covering the BTR crew as they fled inside, during which an RPG from the army blew out one of the hospital windows taking out the insurgent LMG.

Amazingly (good die roll!) the Hezbollah unit was just down the street and headed inbound with their trusty T72.

The arrival of Hezbollah turned the tide for the government and after a couple tank rounds down the street Soudani’s team failed their morale and disappeared into the ruined streets leaving Luskin to quietly exit the hospital from the west side away from the Hezbollah fighters.

As a bit of a random side note, as the Hezbollah fighters advanced toward the action in the first turn of their arrival Dave realised he had a lone insurgent who had fled to cover earlier and was now on his own with a line of sight on the Sgt. Can I? Why not. So the dice were rolled and down went the Hezbollah Sgt! It didn’t effect morale but I guess it does show that the random nature of war can be replicated on the tabletop whether we want it to or not.

So, how did the rules play? Well, pretty well actually, we probably didn’t get things quite right but seeing as we’d never played before, we managed to get a half decent game done which seemed about as good as anything else for representing the period. What was striking was that a set that is advertised as being all secret agent and commando like (Black Ops) translated very well into a bigger more open game and we reckoned with some local tweaks could cater for a multi player game quite easily whereas the set designed for combat operations (Spectre) actually works better in more confined scenarios mainly because of the more detailed weapons rollouts and the concentration on individuals within the group which makes it less adaptable to local rules. The upside for us is that we now have two sets we can mix and match depending on scenario and mood so win, win πŸ™‚

Bad taste. For those who follow us on Twitter you may have noticed the tweet about the beginnings of this AAR being taken down by LAF for contravening their rules about acceptability on their Cold Wars forum which revolves around nothing being allowed which is post 2000 or maybe post 2010 – the cut off point is a little grey so games set in Iraq and Afghanistan have appeared and good luck to their authors. When I foolishly got into a (losing) debate about it the nub of the reasoning seemed to be that showing a hospital building and referring to political prisoners was in poor taste, now the rules are the rules and I have to accept them if I want to post or comment on the forum but I don’t think we can talk about taste and at the same time push metal figures around depicting less than savoury conflicts in less than savoury parts of the world whatever the time frame.

As always we hope you enjoyed the post and happy gaming wherever you are.

Au Revoir Mes Braves!

Back in 2007/2008 Dave and I were fortunate enough to be able to travel to the US and participate in Cold Wars. Apart from the obvious fun of seeing how US gamers held a convention and getting the chance to play in a wide range of games I was fortunate enough to play in one of Bruce Weigle’s ‘1870’ Franco Prussian games. Prior to this I’d never played anything smaller than 28mm other than a brief flirtation with ECW in 15mm but this game in 10mm (or was it 6mm? I just can’t remember πŸ™‚ ) blew me away and I felt that this was the answer to the problem of how to game those classic ‘horse and musket’ battles of the C19th. Dave wasn’t so convinced and pointed out that we were already doing ACW in 28mm big style and we weren’t going to suddenly start all over again with a much smaller scale. He was right of course but I was completely taken by the possibilities for Franco Prussian so I bought the rules and when we returned to the UK started buying up Pendraken packs and getting them professionally painted while I read up on the period.

Fast forward to now and we’ve played a goodly number of the scenarios from the 1870 book and even helped play test one of Bruce’s later publications so with lockdown easing we got the figures out from storage and gave them another go with our own scenario.

The scenario saw MacMahons 1st Corps deployed along one of two major north – south roads in Alsace awaiting the arrival of 5th & 7th Corps for an advance eastward. Unfortunately Kirchbach’s V Corps & Tumpling’s VI Corps plus 2 Bavarian Corps under Tann & Hartmann had advanced across the border and were deploying along the other road. The French objective was to push the Germans back from the other road (major victory) or at least hold their own road (minor victory), the Germans was to force the the French off the designated battlefield – victory or death!

The game went well, as always; the French opted for an early attack by MacMahon all along the line once the 1st Division was in place, keeping the cavalry division in reserve to support 5th & 7th Corps when they arrived (randomly diced for), the Germans opted for the 2 Bavarian Corps to hold the left and left centre while using their cavalry divisions to launch spoiling attacks to slow down the French, the 2 Prussian Corps would march on and deploy on the right and right centre and immediately attack.

In brief; the attack by the French 1st Division shot the Bavarian cavalry to pieces (so much for slowing the French!) but once at the German road line ground to a halt in the face of the Bavarian Corps, the 2nd Division had trouble with it’s order activation resulting in a piecemeal attack on the Bavarians which actually saw it’s brigades fall back, the 3rd Division got into a fierce firefight with the Prussian V Corps and lost badly and fell back on the deploying 5th Corps, the 4th Division took and held some high ground hoping to use it as an anchor for the main attack.

Over the subsequent turns the numerical superiority of the German artillery told on the French, weakening 4th Division on the hill so that VI Corps could by pass them and join V Corps in rolling over 3rd Division and crashing into 5th Corps which ultimately yielded the road. The arrival of 7th Corps was late in the battle on the French right centre where they were easily able to hold the road in their section as the remains of the 2nd & 1st Divisions retreated from attacking the Bavarians. With the specified number of turns played the French had one full strength Corps on part of the road but off to it’s left was the bruised but still capable Prussian Corps so no French victory could be claimed and common sense said the French would withdraw leaving the field to the Prussians and Bavarians.

It was fun, but as we packed away we asked ourselves how many more games of this were we going to play? and the reluctant answer was, not many, we’re 28mm players and despite all the problems that gives for ‘big games’ we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for the collection to go to a more deserving home. So with that in mind here are some details of the collection.

The French is the Army of Alsace under MacMahon comprising the 1st, 5th & 7th Corps. These comprise 10 infantry divisions which total 40 regiments of 3 battalions plus 9 battalions of Chasseurs. There are 4 cavalry divisions of 20 regiments of 4 squadrons each (actually 2 bases on the table) plus 40 guns, 10 machine guns and command stands for Corps, Division & Brigade level. There are also some extraneous elements from 2nd Corps just because there were some figures left over.

The Prussians are the Third Army under Crown Prince Friedrich comprising the V, VI & XI Prussian Corps and the I & II Bavarian Corps. The Prussians comprise 6 infantry divisions of 22 regiments (3 battalions per regiment), 3 jaeger battalions and 6 cavalry regiments plus 34 guns; also 2 separate cavalry divisions of 11 regiments. The Bavarians compromise 4 infantry divisions of 11 regiments, 10 jaeger battalions and 4 cavalry regiments plus 14 guns; also 2 separate cavalry divisions of 6 regiments. Just like the French there are command stands from Corps down to Brigade level.

The terrain consists of; 13 town units, 4 ruins, 5 hills of various sizes, 4 dense woods, about 40 separate tree clumps, 24 rough ground patches (quite useful for putting the trees on), 2 feet of hedges/fences, and 30feet of straight roads plus various curves and junctions. Along with that are tape measures, dice, damage markers, spare flags and a copy of the rules and quick play sheets.

The total number of French figures is around 1200 foot and 100 cavalry and for the Prussians & Bavarians around 1100 foot and 130 cavalry. Those who want to can work out how many Pendraken packs that works out to and a quick google search will give you the painting rates of those who paint for a living, I would say the collection is painted to a good wargamers standard.

What do we want for it? Well we are looking for offers north of Β£2.5k and if you are interested in making an offer or want further details contact us at:

As always, enjoy your gaming.

Science Fiction Side Bar

Back in 2017 I was at my first Games Expo and as I wandered round it struck me that there was more to the whole Sci Fi/Fantasy gaming thing than my very narrow view allowed, ie it didn’t all have to be the Games Workshop juggernaut; but that was it really, although I did notice that at the TTCombat stand they were selling complete sets of various ranges for around a hundred quid and cunningly had them all made up to seduce you! I did think to myself ‘well it doesn’t have to be lasers and light sabres, some kind of near future thing could work…..’

Come October I was at what turned out to be the last Derby show and during my browsing came across the Pig Iron Productions stand and was completely taken in by the figures. Now these aren’t the greatest figures in the world but I thought they had a real down to earth charm which fitted with my half formed idea of an arid planet somewhere in a galaxy, far, far away πŸ™‚ and the perennial conflict between order (an empire/corporate holding) and independence (rebels/pioneers/free traders) – I think I’ve read Dune too many times πŸ™‚ A long chat with the very helpful owner convinced me into an impulse buy of an assortment of figures that could match my vague vision and into the ‘pending projects’ box they went. However, come May of 2018 I was back at Games Expo and the ‘show deal’ of a load of buildings for a hundred quid was on again and this time I looked a bit closer and there was their Sandstorm range saying ‘buy me now’, so I did.

Given that I’m typing this in 2021, clearly the project just sat in a box and did nothing. Well not entirely but other things certainly had more priority; the Cartel project took up a lot of time and creativity and by the end of that I was kind of done with MDF buildings, the Benghazi/Syrian project with the accompanying learning curve of the Spectre rules and the Indo China project all took up time and head space. However I did manage to get the figures painted up (and buy some more, which are still sitting in a box!) and get hold of several rule sets ranging from simple to complex to browse through but this was very much my gig so motivation was an effort. Now 2020 should have been the year to crack on with all that enforced spare time but as I’ve already alluded to, a death in the family and a general lack of motivation meant that nothing new got done. However, at the beginning of the year one of the guys we used to game with and hadn’t seen for a while let us know that he was packing in the hobby altogether and had sold off most of his stuff for ‘proper money’ but had some odds and sods that we might be interested in, amongst which was some sci fi figures. So, we took a look and I sorted a few out that weren’t too outlandish and then Dave said ‘you know what I might give this a bit of a go’ and a project was kick started! Since then Dave has picked up a whole load of ‘sci fi clutter’ from another mate and with the ancients rules now well and truly underway it was time for another MDF buildings outing.

First up was the Sandstorm Hovel A (strangely there is no ‘B’), a single room octagonal dwelling for the ‘poor folks’, very Tatooine like. I had two of these so I built them one after the other and then painted both.

This was an easy build. Everything punched out of the sprues with no difficulty and once I’d filed the nubs where the pieces were connected to the sprues flat I was off and running. Basically there was the 8 wall sections plus buttress sections, one of which was the door section, some arched sections to create the recess for the door, a base, a roof, the grey card roof dome pieces plus mdf frame and a couple of loose bits for controls and air vent type things.

The usual dry fit run seemed to indicate all was good so I just worked my way round the base with the walls, wood gluing as I went. Next the door surrounds, which on reflection I should have pre glued, the door and the various ‘twiddly bits’. While that all dried off I tackled the roof piece and the flat grey card which is intended for the domed roof – a bit of a play here on current day domes on buildings of the middle east. Now I have never been entirely clear whether TTCombat want the roofs to come off or not as the fit is always an interference fit but they are marketed for skirmish gaming and the tongue and groove fit kind of implies that. For our purposes we always want the roofs off so in this case, as in all the Cartel buildings previously done, there was a bit of ‘finessing’ to get the roofs to be able to come off, part of which included ditching the grey card section that went from the dome to the door surround – the roof would never have come off otherwise.

Before creating the dome, the individual sections that provide the skeletal frame for the card to sit on needed to be assembled together and then glued into the slots on the roof piece, this took longer to do than the actual building! Once that was done the flat grey card just needed to be folded along the drawn lines into a dome and fitted over the frame and glued in place as you worked round the circumference slotting fins into slots on the roof piece which got more and more difficult as you worked your way round – what I should have done was open out all the slots for the fins before hand as I ended up ripping the card on the first dome, luckily I was going to tetrion over it afterwards.

Next up was a spray undercoat, I used black on this one but I don’t think it really matters, the mdf soaks it up anyway. After that an all over brush coat of a vaguely sand like match pot and painting of the door and control panels then a mix of tetrion with a desert colour masonry paint plus watered down wood glue daubed on and fine sand sprinkled over immediately afterwards. Once it was dried, a couple of dry brush runs and some staining and ready to go. So far so good.

Next up was the Sandstorm Dwelling, two of them again but this time a square building with the dome, I guess this is meant to be a step up the social status ladder.

The strange thing about this piece was that there was no floor section. Now I don’t know whether this TTC being a bit cheapskate or there was a logic that said ‘well four walls will stand by themselves pretty easy and the roof will tie them in’. If that was the thinking then clearly having a removable roof wasn’t going to work so I cut myself my own floor section, put together the 4 wall sections (well 3 and 1 doorway) with wood glue and put on the roof panel without glue to hold them straight, then once dry took off the roof panel. The open box I had now created I then stuck to my own floor panel – frankly it looked better and I reckon the space is big enough for me to create a separate ‘bedroom’ with card at a later stage.

Everything was much the same build as the hovel except that with the roof the dome sits on it’s own raised dais and that sits on the roof panel; the awkwardness of the grey card dome build was much the same but I couldn’t see much of a way round it.

After that it was the spray undercoat and the first coat of paint and then the terion and sand mix. What I did find with both types of dwelling was that once they were dry I had to file the tabs and/or the grooves again to rid of excess tetrion; there’s no way of hiding the join which can look a bit incongruous but I guess it’s the price that has to be paid for removable roofs – this is where someone like Blotz scores because their roofs are inset thus creating a bit of a parapet and hiding the join.

Next up was the Sandstorm Cantina and this was a complete pig to build! In fact, so much of a pig that I would advise anyone not to buy it and I really like the TTC products.

Once again there is no floor – why? As you can see from the picture this is not a 4 walls and away you go kind of building and they’ve supplied the odd shaped roof section so why not another for the floor? The online instructions are also completely disingenuous, they seem to imply a ring piece of the building shape into which the various wall pieces slot but in fact it is a series of separate pieces – 11 of them, which you have to line up just right and then fit the walls into them and get the walls to line up with each other plus a roof; complete nightmare.

To make this build work I had to again source my own floor section, but this time it wasn’t the vanity of wanting the roof to come off, this time the build couldn’t happen without it – luckily I found a piece of card thick enough. Then I had to align the 11 floor pieces on my floor section – and it wasn’t obvious where each piece went, and glue them in place knowing full well that the nature of mdf cut parts is that there is no margin of error built in. Just to repeat myself here, this was a piss poor piece of design.

Before attempting to fit the wall sections I decided to sub assemble the buttress pieces (just like on the 2 other buildings) so I wasn’t pushing against the walls with extra pieces, which had been easy because the place for the buttress are marked on the wall sections.

Great, worked a treat but imagine my frustration when I placed my first wall into its floor piece and found that if assembled as shown, the buttress now fouled against the floor piece! So now I had to lever/rip the buttress pieces off the walls (and anyone who’s glued mdf buildings knows how well they come apart – not!) and raise them up. I did do a bit of an experiment to see if it was due to me having created my own floor and the answer was no.

Next was the walls themselves, all 11 of them, but unlike the 2 earlier builds where the walls just butted against each other, edge to edge, and any daylight was covered by the application of the tetrion, these had little half moon jointing pieces (4 per join) that you had to push between the walls as you put each wall section to the next with absolutely no margin of error. There were 32 of them and no spares.

So I worked my way round the assembly, and as anyone who has worked in engineering knows, once you get an error that error is chased around an assembly until you get to the last operation and all the error is then in one place. Guess what? That’s exactly what happened, the smallest of error in lining up 11 floor sections and then walking 11 wall pieces around the assembly, wood gluing as I went, inevitably led to disaster.

Remember, a roof still has to go on this! In the end I had to hack a section out to relieve the stress, then forcibly line up the walls and clamp in place with the roof on to set the walls – this involved a lot of opening out of the roof slots so they would align to the walls. Once set (I let it dry overnight, not something you usually have to do with wood glue), I then set about filling the daylight in the hacked wall joint and the floors where the wall tabs hadn’t sat down fully with spare mdf pieces I had – this was where keeping ‘useful’ pieces of old sprues in a box came in very handy.

The end result wasn’t too bad, especially as it would be tetrioned later so then it was on to the roof.

The roof was how the floor should have been. There were a lot of slots around the periphery, one lot for the upstand tabs on the wall sections and another lot for a decorative parapet that encompassed the circuit. The parapet served no useful wargaming purpose but it did serve the purpose of ‘hiding the join’ of where the walls joined the roof. There were quite a few ‘twiddly bits’ to be made up as vents, controls and other non descript ‘sci fi’ stuff which were ok although I do think this is an area where mdf fails, these kind of add on items are far better executed in plastic or resin. The dome was just like the earlier ones, I’m getting used to them now which is just as well because they are a feature of the range.

The usual painting and tetrioning hid most of the sins of the build, although not perfectly, and once complete it’s a sizeable space for a New Hope/Mandalorian bar shoot out; what it needs is a bar, tables and made up sci fi stuff on the walls so I’m going to have to trawl the internet for something usable.

Because this was such a pig I’m going to leave the sci fi project for a little while, especially as the remaining buildings are bigger and potentially more difficult. In the meantime thank you for reading, more to come in due course.

“You’re nicked!”

The Battle of Barbastro

The choice for our 2nd historical re-fight of 2021 was this Carlist War encounter of June 2nd 1837 using Dave’s lovely collection.

In the historical encounter, the Isabelinos (also known as the legitimate government) under General Oraa attacked the Royal Expedition army, notionally under Don Carlos but most likely commanded by General Moreno. The Carlists were positioned amongst olive groves on gently rising ground to the west of the town, with their left flank resting on the river Cinca and the right on some high ground and comprised 4 infantry divisions and 1 fairly large cavalry division; the Isabelinos were in 3 larger divisions and 1 cavalry division, although 1 division did have it’s own attached cavalry. Both sides were comprised of battle experienced troops, although the idea that both were comprised solely of veterans is probably a bit of a stretch. In terms of noteworthy units the Isabelinos had, 2 battalions of Guard Grenadiers, the French Foreign Legion battalion and the cavalry division included, 1 squadron of Guard Horse Grenadiers, 1 squadron of Guard Cuirassiers, 2 squadrons of Guard Lancers, 3 squadrons of Princess Hussars and 1 squadron of Polish Lancers; the Carlists had their own Foreign Legion – the Argelinos battalion, essentially deserters from the other side and the Grenaderos de Ejercito. The main Zaragoza – Barbastro road pierced the centre of the Carlist line but had no significance in the battle.

The Isabelinos did all the attacking and spent most of the day doing so, generally to no avail. The Carlist centre gave ground early on but was reinforced and regained it’s ground sending the government troops back to where they came from. On the Carlist left both sets of Foreign Legion clashed and blazed away at each other for most of the day resulting in the effective destruction of both units. The Carlist right withstood a mass attack led in person by the frustrated Oraa but Moreno threw in his last cavalry to outflank the attack and then led a counter attack to force the whole government force back to it’s lines. Both sides of course claimed a victory and losses were about even but the Isabelinos had failed to dislodge the Carlists who were free to cross the river a couple of days later unmolested and continue their campaign.

For our refight we had the bulk of the units required and where we didn’t have the specific units we had another rather like it – let’s face it, one guy in a beret is much like another guy in a beret! We most certainly had both the Foreign Legion battalions plus all the noteworthy units mentioned above. Terrain wise we played on the 11′ x 6′ foot table in The Bunker (the big shed, because that way we could kid ourselves we were ‘outside’) with a large low ridge in the centre with an open space at either end and then two smaller low hills stretching away to the board edge at one end and a river section at the other end, trees were dotted around to simulate the groves but were not deemed to be an impediment. Like the historical antagonists we had 3/4 infantry divisions and 1 cavalry division each with the option to split the cavalry into smaller brigades if desired – the government certainly seemed to have allocated a number of squadrons to each division but it must be said that the information is sketchy and in some cases downright contradictory so we did the best we could to be as close to the history as possible. The Carlists were deployed on the rearward slopes of the ridges, with the option to move up and occupy the top once we got started, placing 1 division (which included the deserters & Ejercito) behind the left hill, one division behind the centre low ridge, 1 division astride the road and 1 division on the right hill – although referred to as divisions the Carlists were in reality brigades; the cavalry were kept in reserve to the centre rear. The Isabelinos deployed on the plain in front of the rising ground, placing 1 division/brigade on the left backed by by some mountain guns, 1 division of 2 brigades continuing the line up to around the point facing the centre of the ridge and were supported by some of the cavalry and then the other division, again of 2 brigades (the right one including the Legion) plus artillery running from the other half of the ridge to the river but split at the centre by the cavalry of the Guard & Princess Hussars – this was a slight cheat to enable the Foreign Legion battalions to be in the same part of the battlefield from the off.

Victory conditions were quite simple; the Isabelinos had to drive the Carlists from their positions and hold all the high ground by the end of the game, the Carlists had to hold on (not surprisingly) and suffer fewer casualties, anything else was a draw which would actually count as a marginal Carlist victory, so no pressure Isabelinos!

The first couple of turns saw both sides order a general advance which allowed the Carlists to crest the central ridge and their cavalry division to move off to the right flank where the road was but this later turned into a bit of a traffic jam as they tried to get round their own infantry. On the left and right rising ground the Carlists also established their positions; the Carlists now owned the whole ridge line but were not quite in the right shape to defend it.

Turn 3 saw government skirmish fire and artillery fire drive off the Carlist light troops on the ridge and a squadron of the government Borbon lancers managed to work their way up onto the ridge to threaten the Carlist line infantry who duly went into square. On the Carlist left hill their skirmish troops exchanged shots with their opposite numbers but both commanders hung back with their Foreign Legion troops which rather favoured the Isabelinos who started to filter their cavalry between the gap of the hill and the ridge.

Turn 4 saw the action hot up as both sides launched their initial cavalry attacks; on the government side this didn’t go so well as the Carlist square on the ridge stood firm and eventually saw off it’s attackers; on the Carlist right the first attacks of it’s cavalry division saw it’s one Hussar regiment get pretty badly mauled and retire but one of the Navarra lancer regiments saw off it’s opponent and opened up a gap for the rest of the division.

Turn 5 and on the ridge line the Carlists generally stood firm (this was when the cavalry attacking the square left the fight) under artillery and musket fire although one unit (1st Navarre) did retreat but rallied on the lower slopes. More interestingly the government Princess Hussars launched themselves into the Grenaderos de Ejercito who opted to stay in their attack column and empty and few saddles with musketry fire before being contacted in what became quite a murderous melee. On the Carlist right the lancers squadrons started to get organised in the space that was opening up, mainly because their infantry got the message about “stay out of our way!”. On the extreme Carlist right the one brigade was facing off to it’s opponents and frankly nothing much happened here for the whole battle – the poorer quality government troops eventually fell back after a single melee, but this did mean that the brigade astride the road could manoeuvre unmolested behind the lancers.

Turn 6 saw the Isabelinos charge their Guard infantry into contact on the ridge where the Carlists stood their ground in what would be a bit of a slog for a couple of turns, elsewhere along the ridge both sides exchanged fire – the government artillery fire gave the Isabelinos the advantage here. On the Carlist right centre the cavalry started to make some in roads as two regiments launched attacks, one hit a line regiment that elected to stay in line and the other drove off a skirmish battalion and ran onto a hastily formed government square.

Turn 7 was the ‘high water mark’ of the Isabelino attack on the ridge as the Carlist unit facing the Guard retreated from the melee, but crucially didn’t rout, the Isabelinos now had most of the ridge but on the Carlist right the Guides de Alva launched a charge which routed their opponents and they pursued down the ridge thus unhinging the government centre from its under pressure left. The Princess Hussars fell back out of their melee having pushed off their opponents but were in no position to do anything else so withdrew to their lines. For the Carlist cavalry the good times now started to roll, the government line who stood the charge now routed and were pursued back towards their lines paralysing the surrounding units, the square beat off the first wave of lancers leaving them bloodied and disordered but an immediate follow up attack by another Navarre lancer regiment broke them immediately and they were pursued off.

Turn 8 saw both sides achieve break throughs between the ridges. On the Carlist right the victorious cavalry division was romping through the gap left by the fleeing government infantry and had started to turn left to move along the base of the centre ridge; importantly they were now being followed by a completely untouched infantry brigade. On the Isabelino right the Guard cavalry had now worked it’s way between the ridges taking fire from the Carlists on the left hill but unlike the Carlists had no infantry support. In the centre the ridge was becoming government real estate as the Carlists retreated. Over by the river the Foreign Legion battalions were finally in action as they blazed away at each other but it was nothing like the battle of annihilation of history.

Turn 9 was decision time for the government, did they continue on down the ridge to try and rout the retreating Carlists or stay on top of the hill? They decided on staying where they were as that was the objective but that rather left the Guard cavalry squadrons with nowhere to go, there was no enemy visible except those in the high ground shooting it out with their government opponents and behind them was another contest of equals, so they stood their ground.

Turn 10 we called it. On both flanks nothing decisive was going to happen and the Foreign Legion battalions had disappointed. The centre was the decisive point; so yes the Carlists had been driven off but now their cavalry (or at least the squadrons not pursuing) and an untouched infantry brigade were between the Isabelinos and their deployment lines so not so good for the government and given the objective for the Isabelinos was to take all the high ground we judged they had failed.

Much like the real thing it was a hard fought battle with honours being about even in wargaming terms but not in objective terms. Talking about it afterward we agreed we probably should have had the Carlists well and truly on the high ground at the beginning in order to minimise time taken in both sides manoeuvring and also enable the Isabelinos a better chance of softening up the Carlists, who had no artillery. The rules were our own and by and large they coped with the larger game size pretty well, no obvious problems and we had fun, so result πŸ™‚

We hope you enjoyed the read, next one in due course.

The Successors Project: Part Three

So, at the end of Part Two, where I offered up a whole load of reasons why the various commercial sets of rules I play tested didn’t quite cut it, I rather foolishly promised to offer up my own efforts for criticism πŸ™‚

Before doing that though I would like to say that my rules adventure wasn’t just limited to the 5/6 sets I physically road tested, I also watched You Tube play throughs of several other sets to see whether they would be worth a purchase, so, Sword & Spear, Mortem et Glorium and Triumph were considered (and I think a couple more but I can’t remember now πŸ™‚ ) but the play throughs didn’t whet my appetite. Thanks also to the various contributors on LAF who came up with suggestions.

Before opening up, here’s a re cap of the main things we were looking for in a set of ancients rules; period specific, multi figure based and multi stands to a unit, low level book keeping, modifying factors but not a shopping list, a limit on the amount of randomness, visible deterioration of a unit.

Prior to writing and before I got into the play testing previously described I did a kind of project outline document (you can take the man out of project management……..) to help me understand where we might go with the idea but also to give Dave and a couple of other guys who expressed an interest a vision of the period. What came up for me was that there was a hell of a lot more fighting than I thought there was (and that was a good thing), 5 distinct wars/campaigns stretching from Greece to Asia Minor with an ever changing cast of characters using armies that, yes were clearly ‘Macedonian’, but were also subject to the whims of geographically available manpower. The core of the armies was definitely the phalanx and the Companions so that was where the focus needed to be but there was going to be a need to be a bit broader in scope.

Making the rules period specific was the easy bit given that I was writing them πŸ™‚ and originally I had planned to just do the ‘pure’ period of the Diadochi, the real guys who were actually around with Alexander and who had all died out by 281BC, but the more I read the more I realised that their successors, the so called Epigonoi, flowed seamlessly on from them and kept the rivalry and fighting going up until the Romans came along and spoilt everything. So, still specific to the power of the phalanx and the Companions and the elephants etc, just for a bit longer than I originally planned and a few more exotics like Galatians; basically I cut it off at the point where the Romans are facing off to the phalanx, I just didn’t need the head ache of trying to come up with rules mechanisms to fairly represent the Republican legions and once you are into Romans you are into Carthaginians and then Spanish and then……..

Before putting pen to paper Dave and I had a chat about the look we were going for and what the size of the units would be and the base sizes within those units; once we had an idea of that I could go away and see what was the best fit in terms of historical reality. I think it’s very easy, if you are going for a bigger game, to gravitate towards bigger units just because you can, so pike units of 48 figures (done that), 64 figures (done that) etc but the drawback is that your table is never big enough unless you are at the Wargames Holiday Centre or similar and that isn’t an everyday occurrence. A natural result of the big infantry blocks is that you have to go big with the cavalry and so normal size units of 8 or 10 figures suddenly have to be 12, 16 or 20 figures strong which again occupy an awful lot of space and with a good many sets of rules are effectively redundant. The obvious problems with this ‘go big or go home’ approach is, the cost, the time to assemble the units for play, the effort in moving so many figures and the fact that it can be off putting to those considering entry into the period. Now don’t get me wrong, I like big battles and think that at Westbury that is exactly what we do, but the experience needs to be enhancing not exhausting. So, after cutting out various pieces of card (60mm x 40mm, 40mm x 40mm, 50mm x 40mm, 50mm x 50mm, 80mm x 40mm) and mounting random figures on them we came up with 40mm x 40mm for the foot (4 figures, 2 x 2) and 40mm x 50mm for the horse (2 figures) with a proviso that the horse might have to go 50mm x 50mm depending on the size of the castings – this was largely driven by the size of the Victrix cavalry but once we’d dumped them we found that standard metal cavalry would fit fine on the 40mm x 50mm. A contributory factor to this choice was that these base sizes and figure alignment would work fine with Hail Caesar or Swordpoint so if my efforts bombed out then we would still have a half decent commercial set to fall back on. Once we’d agreed on this I could take it back to the history and see if fitted in somewhere and if it did project that forward to determine the potential size of the units, recognising that we were concentrating on the mainstream units here, the phalanx and the shock cavalry (Companions and their derivatives), the rest would have to bend around them. As the rules developed the bases for the ‘exotics’ like elephants & chariots went from big squares to circles to the current octagonal – works great for having a clear notion of which direction they are going to stampede off in!

Now a phalanx is notionally 16,000 men strong, bloody massive, and sits on the battlefield in quite a flat linear formation, deeper that Greek hoplites but not like renaissance Swiss; however it isn’t one immovable block it is made up of several divisions and those divisions are made up of battalions, so it was down to the maths. After some playing around I came to the conclusion that I could have one base as one battalion (or syntagma), now 8 of those make a merarchia and 4 of those make a keras (or wing) of 8,000 men; pretty good I thought, we’d have 4 units of pike which would look cool in the centre of the battlefield and we’d still have room to surround them with the supporting peltasts, mercenary hoplites and elephants as well as have room for the cavalry, yes we’d be operating at half scale but on our standard 8 foot (sometimes 10 foot) x 6 foot table that would look good. For those of you who want to do the maths that made 1 figure = 64 real guys but when it came to the cavalry that just didn’t work; the smallest cavalry unit was the squadron (or ilai) of 256 men which would mean 4 figures, not too bad and absolutely fine for the army of Alexander where the squadron was the tactical unit but in the Successors period several ilai were combined into a hipparchy (or regiment) of around 1,000 men or 4 ilai so we’d be looking at 16 figures and there was usually 4 hipparchies per wing. Now for those who have much bigger tables and plenty of money this probably sounds perfect and good luck to you, double up the size of the pike blocks and away you go, but we wanted it to be doable, better to have 4 regiments per wing of a reasonable size that could operate as their historical counterparts did than have 4 behemoths that just take up space. I couldn’t make any progress with this at first and was thinking well ok maybe 2 x 16 man units per wing in 2 ranks? then it became blindingly obvious, just half it! double ranked cavalry units never work anyway so the base becomes the squadron, so a regiment is 4 bases, very do able and 1 figure = 128 men; actual play testing led me into having the elite cavalry as 3 bases so they could form wedge and the satrap cavalry as 4 which has worked so far and for the pike I ended up cheating a little by making them 9 bases strong in 3 ranks so they looked different to to mercenary hoplites alongside them and had a rank advantage.

Once the basic building blocks were established the rest of the prerequisites to play soon fell into place; there is hardly any armour so you either are or you aren’t, weapons are pretty standard, only the infantry have shields, there are shock cavalry and skirmish cavalry, there are melee infantry and skirmish infantry, so with the skirmishers it was just less figures on a base which did lead me to having the standard skirmish cavalry base as double sized – 1 figure on a base looked silly. I did however succumb to the non historical, purely wargaming formation, of Loosely Formed Infantry to represent peltasts and warbands; everyone knows there is no such formation really but it is a convenient conceit. The range of morale (or bravery or class or whatever you want to call it) seems pretty limited, there are elites and veterans, a whole load of mercenaries who are generally pretty reliable, a goodly number of levy who aren’t so reliable and the great bulk of the armies who are just that, the steady eddies who turned up, fought and died; I opted not to do a ranked hierarchy or stats but instead built in advantages and disadvantages for the various types in different situations. The one thing I did realise, and have tried to build in, is the effect of leaders; none of them are crap, most are pretty effective and some are downright amazing in the right circumstances, so again I’ve built in advantages in certain situations – Pyrrhus, for example, would be classed as ‘Daredevil’ which gives a decided advantage if he’s in the front rank of a unit when they are attempting to charge and when fighting their first round of combat but of course he is at a greater risk of being killed (although nobody is throwing tiles off a roof!). In a moment of madness I did come up with the idea of listing every leader from the period on a spread sheet and ranking them according to what I could find out about them, then ‘costing’ them in the army lists against the armies they could serve with; I actually got a a fair way through this with notes all over the desk and a pounding headache before I thought “what the hell am I doing, I promised Dave this would be straight forward” binned the lot, headache went away πŸ™‚

The first big decision was sequence of play. I have no bias either way in terms of alternate or simultaneous, I’ve played both, written rules incorporating both, and there are plusses and minuses for both. I did think about the completely random approach which has become very popular of late, tokens out of a bag, cards from a deck, and refinements of that theme but I confess to having a real problem with it, to me it has very little to do with the reality of a massed battle, I can see the use in the chaos of a skirmish encounter but not beyond that. I was inclining towards alternate play, it’s easier to administer, there is a sense of generals trying to counter each other and I thought that if I gave an advantage to a certain kind of wily general when the players diced for who went first (let’s call it Initiative) that would give it a sense of excitement. The problem is that one guy is sitting on his arse waiting while the other guy has all the fun unless you then cheat it and have certain things as simultaneous – shooting & melee are the usual ones, but I didn’t want to do that. Then I remembered the idea in Civitates Bellantes of alternate moving but with the guy with the initiative going first in each phase rather than hogging the whole turn – FoG kind of had something like this. The problem with CB was that there were ifs and buts, the opponent could counter charge for example, not for me I was going to go with ideological purity! This wasn’t without it’s problems but I think I’ve got this to work now. So what were the phases to be?

Originally I went for 7 phases; Command & Control (Rallying), Getting into a Fight (charges), Manoeuvre (movement), Shooting, Finishing the Fight (melee), Galloping Off (enforced movement) and Shock of Battle (morale) but after some initial disastrous playtesting (it’s good to burst the bubble of over confidence) I dropped it to 6 and rethought what happened in each phase. Now 6 phases would be a lot for an opponent to wait around for but with my idea that both players would do each phase in order of initiative diced for at the beginning of each full turn there wouldn’t be so much waiting around and it would be like playing two turns in one; so in Command & Control player A (who won the initiative roll) would move his leaders, rally units and maybe write new orders then player B would do his; yes you could do this simultaneously but play experience has shown that at some point it’s going to matter who gets rallied and who doesn’t and the guy going second has a chance of getting the right units ready for being on the receiving end for the rest of the turn – one of the few advantages he will have. In the Contact phase (original title was a bit pretentious) player A will test and launch all his charges and the opposition will either stand or bugger off in some form or other and player A will fight a round of combat – a kind of ‘shock of impact’, only he fights, player B doesn’t fight back and there will be some kind of result, once all this is done player B gets to launch his guys. I wont bore you with every phase but the process applies in each, so in Manoeuvre where at different points of the game it will make a difference whether you go first or second the winner of the dice roll needs to think ahead a bit, in Shooting player B might have less guys to shoot back with, in Continuing Combat player A’s advantage becomes clear because in any stuck melee’s from Contact he is fighting first again, poor old player B is hoping to desperately hold on but this is also the phase where reinforcements can be thrown in, with Consequences you probably could do the rallying simultaneously because both players are testing for bad things that happened to them, they don’t much care about the other guys at this point.

All very well but how do things get resolved? At the start of the writing process I decided I was going to use just one dice type – I’ve used and written rules with several dice types but for the sake of simplicity (it’s an ageing group!) I wanted to use one and after a few trial runs I went for D8, it gave enough of a spread and as I progressed through the early ideas it sat best with where I was going, a kind of synergy. As stated earlier we didn’t want a shopping list all encompassing test which you used for everything but only certain things applied for certain events, my vision was a series of mini tests specific to the particular event (charging, rallying, casualties) with factors only relevant to that event and a standard pass threshold. Now the standard pass threshold didn’t work (I used 6), or should I say it necessitated too many factors to make sure good guys stuck around and crap guys bugger off and those factors were always the same, +2 if Elites, -2 if Levy, you get the idea; then in a lightbulb moment I realised that if I made the pass threshold specific to the class then the shopping list would get shorter and players would know that their Elites always needed a 4 and above and their Levy a 7 and above to, charge, kill, shoot, rally and only a few factors specific to the test would effect that. It’s worked surprisingly well.

Once the threshold thing and the dice were settled a lot of the peripheral stuff could slot into place, being standard wording for things like visibility, terrain types, deployment, orders, ranks fighting, movement restrictions – there really is only a few ways of doing these. For the terrain I went for the tried and trusted version of a few specific types and then have one player place them and the other player choose deployment edge; a simple scouting mechanism would create a difference in ‘scouting points’ which in turn would lead to one player moving or removing pieces and/or creating fords over waterways, putting roads through woods and scattering caltrops. for each point difference. Armies would be divided into simple commands each under a leader – X number of units under a leader who has a zone of influence, who deploy in the standard rectangle measured off the base edge, if a unit isn’t in zone it can’t do stuff. Orders are the big four (attack, advance, hold, skirmish) applied by default, so all elites attack, peltasts advance, skirmishers skirmish, no ifs, buts and maybes.

When it came to effects of the shooting and fighting the big question was what happens to the elephants and chariots? Everyone else is pretty easy to work out, good guys keep on going until they’re nearly all dead, skirmishers ‘don’t like it up ’em’, mercenaries are fine until stuff starts to go wrong, but the exotics were a challenge. Despite our modern day prejudices, coloured somewhat by Roman writers, the use of elephants wasn’t a complete disaster, in fact they were pretty effective within the confines of Macedonian warfare (otherwise why did they use them?) but when things went wrong it could be quite spectacular! I trialled various ideas; permanently random movement, stampede as soon as they are shot at, elephant guards, non elephant guards, tables for direction of movement, non of which did it for me. Where I have got to now is that, they move/charge at a standard rate and units near them or hit by them are unformed (similar for chariots), if they take casualties there is a 50% chance of the mahout/driver being killed and then the elephant/chariot stampedes/goes out of control – and this is where the D8 worked out well, roll the dice, count the flats round the octagon to match the score and there’s your direction of travel. Anyone in the way gets run through and disordered except formed infantry who stand and fight (chariots bounce off), a fixed number of casualties kills off the model which then becomes a piece of difficult terrain – the most fun in the trial games was when they didn’t hit formed infantry but just careered around making a mess until someone shot them down.

I mentioned casualties above and the exotics are the only units that carry casualties until death, so a little bit of book keeping or casualty counters. For everyone else the place I’ve got to is casualties are inflicted in whole figures during a turn and a complete base worth is removed and is the reason to test in whatever phase that happens but if by the final phase a unit has casualties amounting to less than a base then they are discarded, no carry over, no book keeping. As an example, player A Companions charge into some satrap cavalry, they roll 1 x D8 for each base in contact needing the threshold of 4+, they get pluses for being charging lancers and being in wedge, they manage to inflict 2 casualties so the satrap cavalry lose that base, get pushed back 1 base depth and test for losing against their threshold but hang on. Later, in continuing combat, the Companions go again, the wedge is now imbedded in the opposition now so no pluses but they do get one for following on, however they only inflict 1 hit so no test for the satrap guys. Now the satrap guys get to fight but they’ve lost a base and they’re disordered so it’s a tall order and they do nothing; the turn goes on and by the end the satrap guys are sitting there with the 1 casualty but they had 25% losses with the lost base and that is a reason for a Consequences test (morale), but they pass so the casualty is binned off and they hope to fight first next turn. There are nuances for how many bases fight at any one time (front ranks for the initial hit, everyone after that, except….), pikes get plusses for ranks, warbands do well 1st round, etc but the amount of casualty counting is minimal.

Usually the biggy in any set of rules after the killing each other is morale and this set is no different in that it has a turn mop up test but only against a limited criteria – multiples of 25% losses, dead leaders, friends buggered off, but passing favours the better threshold units; the bad results have usually come out of the mini tests in the shooting and melee.

The final thing for any set of rules is of course the army lists which people can argue over to their hearts content or just ignore and do their own thing. I quite like army lists as long as I understand what’s going on and I appreciate the efforts that authors have gone to, but if people want to ignore them by all means crack on. I’ve done mine as already defined units, worth X much, minimum & maximum availability so:- Cataphracts – Formed Cavalry, Lancers, Fully Armoured – 2 to 4 – 7 talents (points), simple and effective. What wasn’t quite so simple was me getting completely carried away! Because it was such a small time frame I knew I could do lists for all the main antagonists, so, Antipater, Perdiccas, Eumenes, Antigonus, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, but then there were the minor players, Seleucus (early on), Peucestas, Asander, oh and then Cassander and Demetrius, and then……. Utter madness, I’ve ended up with around 30, some very similar of course but all having some level of uniqueness, but mad all the same.

I think I’ve waffled on long enough here. It was my intent just to give a flavour but that is quite difficult and originally I intended to include excerpts from the rules but that looked crap so apologies for the solid text. If you want me to send you a pdf for you to take the piss out of (not for publication or sale to 3rd parties etc) then contact us at the blog or maybe easier, DM on the Twitter page or email at the group email address.

Many thanks for reading. Keep safe.

The Successors Project: Part Two

Right, so we’ve agreed we’re doing Successors as the next big project; you know, the next big project we were never going to do πŸ™‚ and we’ve selected our major source for figures and got a rough idea of how many we’re going to need – lots! But, we can’t have a wargame without a set of rules can we? No problem thought I, there are dozens of them around, this will be easy!
Before rushing out and buying several commercial sets of rules at twenty quid a pop, Dave and I had a couple of garden meetings during the summer of 2020 and talked through what we were after in terms of how the game would play and what it would look like and came up with some guiding parameters.

Our primary need was for the figures to be multi based on stands and for X number of those stands to represent a unit; preferably the unit frontages would be common throughout. We didn’t want element bases in the DBA style – if we’d wanted to play chess that would be our hobby! and what we most definitely did not want was singly based figures moving around on sabot bases masquerading as units.
On the record keeping aspect, which a certain faction of gamers seem to have a real problem with these days, we’ve done it in most of our rules so a little bit of book keeping or utilising casualty counters wasn’t a worry.
Factors. Gamers seem to have divided into love them or hate them these days, most of the rule sets we play have factors in one form or another so again, not too worried, but we did agree NO to shopping lists.
Randomness. If there were no dice it wouldn’t be a war game but we like our random aspect to be contained within a narrow band so NO to buckets of dice, NO to random movement – no evidence whatsoever and NO to silly random event/command cards – “Lucretius Cretinus has a cold, no orders given for the next two turns”, it’s not bloody kindergarten!
Commercial rules if possible. Now one of our occasional opponents, outside of the Group, thought this to be highly hilarious, “You, play to a set of commercial rules? Never going to happen!” Yes I have written most of the rule sets we use and some have been published but with so many sets available – I listed around twenty when we got started, I genuinely thought it would be a doddle to find a set that answered most of our needs even if we had to locally tweak; you can see where this is going, can’t you?
Ideally a period specific set would be perfect but I kind of knew going in this was likely to be an impossible dream.

Having done a bit of preliminary reading I sorted through my existing rule sets and quickly realised that when I played WRG 5th & 6th and Shock of Impact, my young brain was far more agile and so they and Tactica and the Newbury set went quietly back into the box. Still not wanting to splash the cash just yet I sent out the call to nearby occasional opponents to see what they might have and in a few weeks I had, To The Strongest, Warhammer Ancient Battles, Field Of Glory, Vis Bellica, and Hail Caesar, to which I later added Civitates Bellantes and Swordpoint. Now I had something to be getting on with which was just as well because restrictions were tightening so solo gaming different rule sets would be my gaming for the next few months – I now realise why I game with others, solo gaming is crap.

First up was, To The Strongest. I’d heard good things about these and the guy who lent them to me certainly thought they were worth the money, but there again he plays DBA so what does he know πŸ™‚ Now straight off the bat they didn’t meet the basing criteria, having one base size for all units with different numbers of figures on the base (well 3 base sizes actually as this varies with table size) to represent a unit type, so one base = one unit, but I thought ‘hey, embrace the difference, the ancients gaming world has moved on and you might have missed something’. So I dutifully cut out lots of 180mm x 40mm strips of card and played through a game (actually it was more like two games because for each set I would start, realise what I was doing wrong and then replay earlier moves – hey it was lockdown, what else was I going to do?).
Before I go any further though I think I need to come clean here, I really didn’t like these rules, complete respect to Simon Miller for all the work he put in to make them different and the army lists he did are exhaustive but it was a bad start to the quest. I think I should have stopped when I realised the basic concepts of the game; ok, so one base = one unit, then the playing area is divided into a grid or box of squares of a certain size in which one unit can exist, the units are then activated (its an I go, you go system) by the active player (I couldn’t work out how this was decided) drawing cards from a standard deck and they move a certain number of boxes, there are no rulers or dice. Now call me old fashioned but haven’t we just chucked away what makes a wargame a wargame?
Undeterred I ploughed on; so to move unit X I would declare that intent and draw a card from my deck needing 2+, I draw a 4 so happy days but I can activate that unit again if I want to but now I need more than the 4 on the next card and so it goes on until you fail and hand over to your opponent, so the ‘skill’ is to calculate your odds on getting a higher card or not (like a glorified pub game) and move on to your next unit before you fail. This can make for a very randomised and fractured game which looks awful and I would propose has nothing to do with history – some dark age battles maybe (maybe) but neither the sources or modern interpretations give any indication of this kind of fracture, if anything ancient Hellenistic battles can be a bit on the boring side, the trick being to use your cavalry effectively.
The shooting and melee obviously also use the cards; to hit, the player draws a card needing 4+ (I think), if successful the opponent draws a card needing to beat an arbitrary saving factor, if he is successful then happy days he gets to fight back, if not, then generally the unit goes disordered and if hit again then it is lost – a posh way of saying destroyed. For me there were two problems with this; first, I had gone from playing a board game to now playing cards in the pub and secondly the ease with which units could be destroyed meant that the nicely painted 16 pike figures (I think it was16) you had on your one base were now in the metaphorical bin. The reward for tabling nicely painted figures was zero, there was no sense of a unit being worn down yet fighting on valiantly as you removed bases, one minute it’s there the next minute it’s gone.
There are also rules for 5 levels of command (on different big bases) which I’ll admit I never really got to grips with as I was too busy playing cards, which rather neatly brings us to the visuals of the game which at times were quite awful, multiple cards behind different units and then alternate cards for the combat, it looked shite and at times so confusing you lost track of what you were doing. I explained all this to Dave and the one big base idea he liked (“save us moving all those pike bases around”) but then I explained the grid and the cards, “sounds like a board game to me and I don’t play board games”. Case closed.

Next up was Vis Bellica. Again recommended by a fellow gamer and one who used to be a very serious ancients player so hopes were high. At it’s core Vis Bellica has the same DNA as To The Strongest (although written some time before) in that a unit is one base with the variance being the number of figures on the base – some of which are quite strange arrangements, however we do get to use rulers and dice! Before I got started there was an awful lot of exposition concerning, experience (levy, elite, etc), order (close order, open order, skirmish order, rinse & repeat for cavalry), weight (armour but expressed as a version of order like light cavalry, heavy cavalry, etc), armament (distance & melee) and then all the abbreviations for what has gone before and then the number of figures on a base for the different versions of order; all this and we’re only using one 6″ x 3″ base! And it kept on going! I finally got to the playing the game bit at page 28 of 45 pages and I think my irritation may have affected my enjoyment level. The game turn is split into 3 phases (simple), a compulsory phase (routs, ongoing melees & flank moves), a command phase (leader bases move, spotting & orders) and an action phase – the nitty gritty of charges, shooting, movement and casualties (which is actually officers only because the figures are purely symbolic). I’m pretty sure this is a simultaneous movement game but I could be wrong because it didn’t seem to say one way or the other, never the less I did play two games.

Going through the sequence; having the routs as the first thing was quite handy in clearing the table and given the speed of movement (see later) the table can get cleared quite quickly, melees are worked out by modifying the unit’s arbitrary base strength (a number derived from the experience, order and whether infantry or cavalry) from a fairly lengthy factors table plus a 2 x D6 roll then divide by 5 (rounding down) and the result is knocked off the opponent’s base strength. Loser takes a morale test using the now modified base strength plus factors from another table and is either ok, shaken or routs. This was very tedious to play (not helped by the melee and morale stuff being in different parts of the book) and given that you are using 2 D6 very random.

The command phase has the movement of leader bases which are 9″ x 18″. What the ****! It took me a while to realise what was going on with this but of course 6″ x 3″ bases are multiples that fit into the larger thus defining the command but there really was no need for this. Further complication was provided by there being 4 levels of command – CinC, General, sub general and leader with the leader having a number of bases under his command and when on the table those leaders can do spotting to find out whether they can see the enemy but that is dependent on rolling for command points which are also used for changing orders, rallying and removing disorder. Why? Just why? This was way over the top and just needless aggro when all you want to do is get on and fight; the section talks about junior officers and brigades and includes a table showing the number of points required to take an action dependent on rank and distance away, Jesus! This isn’t the C18th; in your average ancient battle there is a king and two or maybe three sub commanders who have been told what to do, the enemy is visible across the other side of a generally featureless battlefield, most troops behave in a standard manner, off we go!

The action phase was the main event. The movement is massive! Light cavalry bound along at 20″ and if they are skirmish order they add another 4″ – this kind of shows the pointlessness of the earlier lengthy division of troop types. Heavy & medium infantry go at 10″, pretty nifty but then look at missile distances; a javelin man at long range shoots at 8″, a slinger at long range is 12″, short is 10″ so in one move a pike phalanx is all over those pesky skirmishers making them completely redundant, so why did the ancients have them in their thousands? What also becomes clear is the need for a big table, your average 6′ x 4′ is not going to be any use, in 2 turns the enemy skirmish cavalry are at your deployment zone, yes your pikes will be in contact pretty quickly but we know from the ancient sources that the armies deployed some way off to allow the skirmishers to have a go and for the cavalry to try and flank, not so here. The shooting is like the melee. base strength, lengthy factor table, 2 x D6, casualties of 25% (which aren’t casualties obviously just a reduction in the base strength) means morale test. It is also at this point that officers and standard bearers (the army standard idea from WRG is used here which was a crap idea back in the days of 7th edition) can be killed which can then trigger a morale test. This works fine but it is a bit long winded.

Looking back at my notes after the play throughs I see comments like “too mathsy” with reference to the casualty calculations, “none of this is any good” regarding the command rules, “good ideas but too complex” for the shooting & melee, “too fast” for the movement, but what really killed it was the feel, that completely intangible thing that either is or isn’t, the one base = one unit just doesn’t do it for me and again my overall feeling was that I’d played a board game in which my nicely painted figures were utterly redundant.

Next on our lockdown journey was Simon MacDowall’s Civitates Bellantes, a lesser know work compared to some but one aimed solely at the classical period and by an author who I rate as an innovator having played his Legio rules and Comitatus.

The rules started on familiar ground with the WRG/DBA basing standard of a 60mm x 40mm base and between 2 and 6 of these ‘stands’ makes up a unit. The number of figures on the base define the troop type (Light Infantry, Light Cavalry, etc) but again the number of figures doesn’t actually matter. Other preparatory stuff gives arbitrary characteristics for different troop types, being an Attack value, a Defence value and a long & short range shooting ability; a training grade ranging from A to C and morale classes (4) ranging from exceptional to poor, armour is a comparative thing relating to others. For me this was all a bit overdone but simple enough. Dice are D6 and D average (very WRG!) but no rulers, instead we have measuring sticks marked with half and full stand frontages and a full stand frontage is called a ‘javelin throw’ (JT) which is the basis for movement and ranges. Now I’m going to say this now, what an utterly pointless concept; movement is in half JT’s (it even sounds ridiculous) but shooting in full JT’s with short range being 1JT and long being 5JT, so what’s wrong with just saying 60mm (way too small anyway) and 300mm. I tried it but soon gave it up, there was no point, it was confusing and served no profitable purpose.

The sequence was alternate with players dicing for initiative (who goes first) but here the going first is for each phase in the turn (command, movement & shooting, combat, morale) not playing through the whole turn and then handing over to the other guy. I liked this, I thought it gave some interesting tactical choices and meant that one player wasn’t hanging around too long.

The command phase is linked to the chain of command set out which gives a General and Sub Generals plus a Contingent Commander for allies. The nub of the phase is leaders moving to steady or inspire troops by attaching themselves to them or positioning themselves within 1JT (remember how small that is) of his units and exerting de facto control, those out of the distance are not under control and take a test which results in them doing as they are told, whooping it up and sailing off toward the enemy or halting. My experience of this was it just being a pain in the arse; because the control distance was so small you always ended up testing something but with largely little effect and so the game slowed down, as I played I was thinking ‘if these are any good I’m going to dump this bit’.

The movement phase suffers from 3 things; one, the stupid JT idea, two, the random dice modifications applied to the JT and three the concept of permanently unformed troops. Dealing with the last first, the idea is that certain troop types are always less well ordered than others, but not disordered because that means something else in the rules, and involves spacing stands apart (1JT distance) which looks rubbish and in the midst of the battle you can end up pushing bases back together again because you’ve forgotten they were unformed; it’s an unnecessary bit of frippery (like the JT) that is just distracting. The stupid JT idea; “1/2 JT for each pip rolled on 1 x AvD plus one optional extra AvD. Except for cataphracts, cavalry may elect to roll a third optional D6,” What and why? each category has similar wording resulting in an overly fussy movement system which stutters along; I can for example roll my AvD get 4, move 120mm, then think ‘oh that wasn’t very far’ and roll another AvD but get only 2 so move 60mm but no problem I can now roll my D6 and get 6 which gives me another 180mm. I know of no ancient battle where movement was anything like this, it’s a gimmick and not a very good one. On top of this is Disorder Points (DP’s) for fatigue, terrain and manoeuvre, some of which are generated randomly and others by fixed penalty and these are serious shit because they are effectively casualties and too many means goodbye unit. The idea is fine (apart from the random ones) if you’ve bought into the no casualties idea but there are 4 pages of conditions which at times can be a little bit like ‘except on a Sunday unless you are elite guards’. More of this in morale.

The shooting is completely ineffective but in fairness to Simon he does say this. Ranges are the 1JT & up to 5JT, so javelins and bows, no differentiation for slingers so I guess they are lumped in with bows. The process is 2 x D6 per stand modified by a couple of factors at most and a score of 6 is needed to inflict a DP (casualty). It is simple and it is completely ineffective.

The charge movement and combat suffers from a lack of clarity. At first I thought you could only charge from 1JT away (because it says so) but then as long as you are in bow range (because it also says so). I think the idea is that in movement you say if you are charging and roll the amount of dice you think you need and then stop at 1JT ready to close in this phase. The rules allow a counter charge and seem to imply that both sides declare charges which seems to negate the innovative initiative within phases of earlier. Units then compare their pre determined Attack or Defence values and modify with a D6 and factors from a list, the difference in the scores is then compared against another table for an outcome depending on whether you won or lost. So if my total score was say 9 and yours was 4 then I would look up the 5+ outcome and you would look up the -5 outcome, both would involve the allocation of DP’s and some kind of movement penalty; this wasn’t very intuitive and wasn’t helped by there being no explanation, just the two tables.

The morale is the DP’s. Essentially once you get to 4 DP you are Shaken and can’t do much until rallied, either being outside of 5JT of the enemy & halted or in the command phase and this can be a bit difficult as leaders only have 2 action points (which is what you need to rally) and may want to do something else. Being in melee with high DP’s is a big minus so you can end up breaking in the melee but there is no morale failure as such. I get what was trying to be achieved here; leadership is all and you have to work hard to utilise them effectively but the process is a fag and not a lot of fun.

I had high hopes for these but despite some good ideas buried away they didn’t hang together well and weren’t an enjoyable playing experience. At a very base level I was encouraged by having stands make up a unit and I could have lived with the figures on the stand being purely decorative but then you never lose stands so what was the point? you may as well use the one big stand = one unit idea of TTS and VB.

Next up was Field of Glory a thick hard back tome that could act as a bullet proof vest. Now I don’t know anyone who plays FoG but I do know it is very competition based, has a hard core fan base and I’ve watched some games at shows (when they existed!).The basing is straight DBA, hence the competition vibe, which for a game with a lot of figures is a bit of a drag.

The sequence is an Initiative based alternate move system (kind of). How the initial Initiative is decided I didn’t understand (I diced) but after that it swops back and forth. The turn starts with charges (Impact in the rules) and the immediate melee where the active player gets stuck in and the opponent either gets out of the way or stands his ground, then normal movement for the active player, then shooting for both players, then continuing melee for both players, then joint actions like rallying and moving leaders. I liked the impact and melee idea for the active player and him moving but the rest being simultaneous struck me as an opportunity lost.

Movement is SLOW, very slow, don’t bother fielding cataphracts they don’t go anywhere (4″) and heavy pikes just crawl along (3″). Movement is split into simple and complex and units test for complex moves which is 2 x D6 plus factors needing a 7 or 8 to pass depending on drill; perfectly fine as an idea but a little complex; even on a 6′ x 4′ table this was a slow game.

Shooting ranges are really short, long range bow is 6″ and is determined by rolling a number of D6 per base depending on range. The nub of the system is what is called Points of Advantage which are plus or minuses dependent on the target and the shooter which gives a minimum score to get a hit. The number of hits taken per base determines whether the unit tests its cohesion using 2 x D6 and this raises or lowers its cohesion level which forces some kind of action although generally not much happens. There is also a Death Roll to see if a base is removed which was kind of fun but overall it felt like a lot of work for no real gain.

The melee process, whether impact or continuing, was the same as shooting, different numbers of D6 per base dependent upon whether impact or continuing and then different PoA’s – there was a lot of these, followed by cohesion test and death roll. Unfortunately it was all a bit random and I have to confess a little boring.

Morale is the cohesion test where you can drop down the cohesion level ladder or be rallied back up again.

Overall there were some good ideas; the impact & fight idea I liked and what I hadn’t mentioned, that leaders are on the same bases as the troops (so 60mm x 40mm) so can be slotted into a unit when fighting with them rather than circular leader bases that may or may not be touching a unit base. On the downside the DBA basing is a bit old hat now and the movement rates frustratingly slow plus there is just a little too much “if you do that then you must do this” which is kind of inevitable in a competition style rules set.

Next was Hail Caesar, another in the ‘big thick book’ category. Another alternate move system (whatever happened to good old simultaneous movement?) but a more pure one in that blue (for example), moves, shoots, fights and then red follows, simple enough. Armies are divided into divisions commanded by a leader, units are made up of stands, although again the number of figures doesn’t really matter and the number of stands varies according to the level of game being played – 3 I think. For the most part this is straight forward and although frontages & depths are given per figure it is easy enough to multiply up into conventional base frontages, where this comes unstuck is with the skirmishers who are based as single figures as if they had wandered onto the playing surface from a nearby skirmish game. it looks odd and plays badly.

For movement the active player declares his intent for a unit and then rolls 2 x D6, if the score is better than the general’s leadership skill (usually 8 or 9) then the unit has failed, if less then good to go, if significantly less he can move 2 or even 3 times – charges are part of the intent declaration. Very simple but man can you get some variance! Also, once you’ve failed a roll that’s it for that leader. Now I’ve played with guys for whom this is nirvana and they’ll wax lyrical about how much ‘fun’ it is. For me it was way too much, no army in ancient history behaves in such a random way when moving on the battle field. The actual movement distances are fine for a single move but with the distance multiplier light units can be across the average 6′ x 4′ in a turn so any hopes of nuanced play is killed which would seem to indicate a larger playing area (8′ x 6′) would need to be the norm.

The shooting is done by a number of D6 equal to the unit’s arbitrary ranged attack value which is modified up or down depending on the unit size. Add or take away a few modifiers and a score of 4/5/6 gives a hit. Simple. Ah, but then we have saving throws, 1 x D6 for each hit with some modifiers and the unit needs to equal or better it’s morale value. Then hits are noted against the unit stamina value, if equal it goes Shaken, if double it goes Shattered. Not so simple and bloody pointless, why do the job twice?

The close combat follows similar lines to the shooting only this time the number of D6 is equal to the unit’s arbitrary combat value, again modified by a few factors. The hit requirement is the same along with the saving and the stamina but an added dimension is that the unit which took the most hits rolls against a ‘break table’ the results of which can be anything from ok to break, in which case the unit is removed. A neat little trick with the stamina thing is that once a unit exceeds it’s level it can end up sharing them with other units.

Overall the rules are simple and effective if a trifle random and although I didn’t want to adopt them as our set I could see myself playing them if invited to do so. What’s my problem then? Well I think I’ve come to the view that the assignment of arbitrary values for everything a unit does no longer sits well with me and I say that as someone who has written 3 sets of rules that use exactly that idea! In terms of trying to create national or systemic differences to provide nuance on the battlefield it’s all well and good but it is a dictatorial approach which puts the player on the outside and when you actually look at all the numbers you’ve created there isn’t a lot of difference. I read through the army lists book that covers our time frame and the attack values and combat values etc were really not that different from one army to the next so why bother? The movement roll mechanism was really annoying after a while and cannot claim to be any kind of representation of ancient warfare, I know it’s a game mechanic I just didn’t like it. The ultimate tick in the no box however was the saving throw; I know it’s a motif of Rick Priestly and the whole Warhammer ideology but it’s time consuming, it’s dice rolling for the sake of it and frankly it’s lazy, just make your casualty mechanism robust enough for players to only have to do one thing.

As a sidebar I also gave Warhammer Ancient Battles a go just because one of my mates found a copy buried away but we’ll leave it at that; I played them and I really, really, didn’t like them.

Final playthrough in this marathon of lockdown was Swordpoint; I played the original version although I now believe there is a 2nd edition available.

Amazingly a simultaneous play set of rules divided into four phases; Initial (morale tests for previous bad stuff), Shooting, Movement (includes rallying) and Combat. Units are made up of stands, very similar in frontage to what you end up with in Hail Caesar, containing a fixed number of figures and the number of stands in a unit type has a minimum and a maximum – stands are actually removed! Groups of units are assigned a leader who has his own Attack and Cohesion value (see later) and the units have a Defence and Cohesion value; again arbitrarily assigned values but at least limited. The key aspect of the game is Momentum Points, a certain number are given at the beginning of the game and more are earned through successful play to be used to boost stats in things like melee.

The game really starts with shooting in the opening turns, ranges seemed pretty sensible and the initial process simple. A unit rolls 1 x D6 for each base it has, modified by a few factors and needing 4+ to hit. Needless complication is then added by the saving throw routine, this time 1 x D6 for each hit, modified by a couple of factors and needing to equal or beat the defence value of the unit shot at. Damm! The target unit can end up Discouraged if it took 10% of it’s base strength (number of figures per base x number of bases) which gives momentum tokens to the shooter and effects cohesion and combat, 25% casualties will lead to a cohesion test. Uniquely, casualties equal to base strength (number of figures on a base) means the base is removed, less means no base removal and there are no carry overs – simple from a record keeping point of view.

Movement is in four phases and the players dice for Initiative using a D6 plus momentum tokens (so that’s what they’re there for), the winner gets to choose whether to go first or second in the sub phases. So then we are off into declaring charges and responding – there is no test which I found odd, rallying which needs a leader in range and does involve a test, then the compulsory moves like evade or fleeing, actual charge moves take units to within 1″ and then normal moves – a neat little quirk here is allowing close order foot to go the same speed as other foot until within an arbitrary distance of the enemy, then they slow down. There are special rules for being drilled, impetuous or similar which work quite well but you did have to remember to flick to the page in the book.

The combat uses the tokens again to boost abilities and there are bonuses for being in line of battle. Fighting is done in weapon length order or whether you charged and is simultaneous. Basically it’s 1 x D6 for a cavalry base and 2 x D6 for a formed infantry base needing 4+ unless you are superior (3+) or inferior (5+) followed by the inevitable saving throws. Once that’s done the opponents compare losses, add some factors and compare the modified losses to a table which gives the result for the loser. Again bases are removed for whole bases lost and carry overs discarded. Serious losses force a Break Test which can result in the unit fleeing and all these outcomes give momentum tokens to the winner.

All these outcomes then roll into the start of the next turn and morale tests kick off that turn.

Again pretty simple and effective and like Hail Caesar I would play if invited into a game with no qualms but ultimately not quite there which just goes to prove my mates point and I think he’s right I obviously do have an in built resistance to commercial rule sets. That said this was the nearest set and if my own efforts don’t work out this would probably be the set with some local mods. My main objection to these was, not surprisingly, the saving throws, but also the innovative momentum tokens isn’t quite as ground breaking as I first thought because it does become slightly artificial and massively favours the attacker so Harold on his hill at Hastings hasn’t got much of a chance of getting tokens and keeping track of the damm things was a bit of a chore.

So that’s it, a good cross section of rules trialled and the promised land not quite reached , no surprises there! What I did find however was some quirky ideas I would like to see in my ideal set and several ideas and themes that I would never want to game with. All through the trials I was making notes on the main areas of each set of rules and then separately writing up short paragraphs on what I wanted from movement, melee, shooting, etc and at about the 2/3rds point I thought “I’m going to have a go at a set” which I was going to offer up here but this has waffled on for far to long so I’m going to sign off and then do another post describing my fledgling set and maybe offer people the chance to criticise me the way I have others here.

Until then, be safe.