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 🙂 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 🙂 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.

The Battle of the Rain

Before we started gaming “outside” again Dave and I agreed that we’d try and do more historical refights and rather than take and tweet photos as we go we’d do a write up of the game as a complete blog post with photos and see how that went; so this is our first attempt.
The actual battle, also known as the battle of the Lech, was fought on April 15th, 1632, between 40,000 Swedes under Gustavus Adolphus and 25,000 Imperialists (Catholic League) under Johan Tilly. The Imperialists occupied the high ground in a strong position overlooking the river Lech where the Swedes were forming up on the far bank. Under cover of darkness the Swedes constructed a pontoon bridge across the river and sent an advance party over to construct earthworks for the Swedish guns which once established provided covering fire for the crossing of the main army. At the same time a strong cavalry force was sent south to cross the river 10km south and so outflank the Imperialist position. The Swedes attacked all along the front and during the accompanying cannonade Tilly was mortally wounded and his second in command, Johann von Aldringen, was knocked unconscious; as a result, the leaderless army fell apart and retreated before the flanking cavalry could arrive, effectively saving it from complete annihilation.
We set up on the 10 x 6 table at ‘The Bunker’ using Dave’s Swedes & Imperialists and played using my Husaria rules with the Northern War Swedish & Austrian lists locally modified for the TYW; Dave took the Imperialists and I took the Swedes. The Swedes were deemed to be already across the river with the majority of the army and deployed for battle with further troops still crossing the bridge, the arrival of the flanking cavalry brigade was randomly diced for beforehand and the Swedish player wasn’t informed it even existed to create a kind of fog of war effect – it worked! From left to right the Swedes were deployed as follows; 3 German pike regiments under Konigsmark flanked by some dismounted dragoons in the fields, a Swedish brigade of 2 regiments under Baner, a redoubt of heavy guns supported by detached musketeers under Saxe Weimar, a cavalry brigade under Stahlandske comprising Danes & Finns, a large mixed brigade of Swedes & Germans – 5 regiments under Horn, the Scots brigade of 3 regiments under Leslie, a large cavalry brigade of 5 mixed regiments of Swedes, Danes & German under von Brandenberg out on the right flank, while behind them all coming over the bridge were 2 cuirassier regiments under Gustavus himself and 3 German pike regiments under Brunswick; there were also several gun batteries on the rivers edge. The flanking cavalry was 3 Swedish regiments under Wittenberg.
The Imperialist deployment, also from left to right, was; two cavalry brigades one behind the other comprising 4 regiments each under von Aldringen & Marazzo supported by dismounted dragoons, 3 cuirassier regiments under Merci, 3 pike regiments under von Fugger supported by 2 pike regiments under Gallas, a heavy gun redoubt supported by detached musketeers, 2 pike regiments under Holzappel, another heavy gun redoubt supported by detached musketeers & Croat infantry and the postion of Tilly’s command post, 2 pike regiments under Montecucoli and behind them 3 cavalry regiments under Haes.
Initial turn saw both sides attempting to get their troops moving which in most cases was pretty successful although for the Swedes the Finnish regiment of Stahlandske’s brigade spectacularly failed it’s Initiative roll and retreated! getting in the way of the cuirassiers coming over the bridge, and one of Horn’s German regiments refused to advance and in fact refused for the whole of the game despite Horn himself going to them! The Imperialists were more cautious advancing down the slopes to give their guns a better field of fire but advancing strongly on their right hoping to pen back the numerically superior Swedes.
The heavier guns of the Imperialists had the better of the shooting in the opening couple of turns forcing Stahlandske’s regiments back (to join the Finns!) but Horn’s brigade shrugged off their casualties and kept on coming. By turn 3 the Swedish right wing cavalry decided to get stuck in with the better quality Swedish horse leading the charge forcing the dragoons to flee the field and then quickly seeing off their opponents from Aldringen’s brigade and disorganising the rest of the brigade. Behind and to the left of Brandenberg, Leslie’s Scots were heading towards the gap being opened up between the Imperialist left and left centre. Over on the Imperialist right Montecucoli and Baner were exchanging musketry fire with the Imperialists coming off slightly worse, mainly due to the battalion guns attached to the Swedish brigade.
With the coming of the afternoon (game time) the Imperialist’s had halted their infantry advance in the centre at the foot of the ridge, theorising that the support fire of the big guns and detached shot on the slopes would thin out the Swedes enough to even out the coming melee’s but the left was looking vulnerable so Merci gambled and threw his cuirassiers into the path of Leslie’s Scots – oh dear 😦 . The Scots barely paused, there was a brief round of combat but the veteran horse were repulsed, never to fully recover, further shooting later in the battle in fact saw them retreat from the field.

As the afternoon wore events took a rather dark turn for the Imperialists; on their left flank, Wittenberg’s cavalry brigade arrived to threaten the already weakened Aldringen and Marazzo – this was a surprise for me never mind them! A far bigger disaster however was the death of Tilly due to a random cannon shot (very historical!) – we had factored in a 5% chance of any general being killed if there was artillery shots hitting units they were near. The resultant morale testing saw Haes’ whole brigade retire from the field, Montecucoli’s brigade retreat back to the lower slopes of the ridge and the crews of the artillery battery supporting them from on top of the ridge abandon the guns along with their supports. No other units reacted quite as adversely but the brigades of Holzappel and Fugger felt the loss when they tested for musketry fire and so also retreated. The real kicker however was the charge of the lead Swedish regiment of Brandenbergs brigade which forced their immediate opponent to retreat through the unit behind which then tested for the still charging Swedish unit and retreated also, revealing a third, and very shaken, Imperial unit which also retreated – drinks all round! The Imperial left was looking very vulnerable; Aldringen was gone, Marazzo was dazed and confused and Merci had suffered serious losses, this left Gallas to swing round his pikes to stem the tide.

Just when the Imperialists thought it couldn’t get any worse it did. Fugger’s pike who had been slugging it out with Horn’s brigade with close range musketry (next turn would be clash of pike) collapsed under the weight of fire and started to retreat up the ridge accompanied by Merci’s cuirassiers who even as veteran’s just couldn’t take the losses. To top it off, Gallas was the killed by a stray round shot and the resultant test for his brigade saw them both retire from the field; a charge from Wittenberg was all the excuse Marazzo’s remnants needed to also retire. It was late afternoon and the Imperialist left was shattered, 11 regiments of cavalry had routed, retreated or in the case of two been utterly destroyed and 6 regiments of Swedish & Danish cavalry (two of Brandenberg’s horse were now completely blown) had a clear run across the rear of the Imperialist lines.
As the afternoon wore on the Imperialists took stock. On their right Montecucoli had fallen back to where he started and was presenting a defiant front now that the gun crews that had retreated had rallied and returned to their pieces along with their supports, but they were 2 regiments facing 5. In the centre Holzappel was holding his position next to the centre redoubt and Fugger’s regiments were rallying on top of the ridge but their options were limited; they could of course form hedgehog and fend off the cavalry pretty easily but while the cavalry pinned them Leslie (3 virtually untouched regiments) & Horn’s (2 battered and 2 hardly touched regiments) brigades would roll up and finish them off leaving Stahlandske and Adolphus’ cavalry to pursue the remnants. With that in mind Dave called it and we wrapped, figuring the guns would be spiked and abandoned and the infantry would high tail it probably not pursued by the tired cavalry.
On the Swedish side it was probably a more complete victory than the real thing; they had certainly taken losses, Baner’s brigade had one unit with serious losses, Horn had a couple of units badly damaged but he also had the unit that never got going and another in the front line that were untouched, and of course Brandenberg’s cavalry had suffered. On the plus side however, Kinigsmark and his supporting dragoons were untouched, Gustavus’ cuirassiers were untouched as were Brunswick’s 3 regiments and Leslie & Stahlanske had suffered minor losses.
So how did it go? Well it was always going to be a difficult one for the Imperialists they are outnumbered and although defending a fixed position there was very little manoeuvring room on the flanks. The one place they could have made a difference was on their left flank where they outnumbered the Swedes 2:1 but the Swedes were more aggressive and got the drop on them which negated the numbers. A possible tactic, but risky, might have been to bring all the pike straight off the ridge supported by Merci and try to push back Horn & Leslie before Gustavus & Brunswick could get over the river, it would have been 7 against 8 so possible but would have relied on Marazzo & Aldringen doing better but would leave them vulnerable once Wittenberg arrived.
How did the rules play? Although designed for eastern europe they played perfectly well and didn’t need any special rules, where we did need to do some work was on the army lists which aren’t designed for the TYW but we managed to put something together that worked and learnt a few lessons – which means I now have to produce some ‘proper’ lists to supplement the main rules!
All in all a good couple of days gaming after so long away from the table and we hoped you enjoyed reading about it.

See you next time.

The Successors Project: Part One

So, we were ‘Thinking About Successors’ now its a project!

In our original thinking it was going to be easy (cue gales of hysterical laughter), buy solely plastic figures from Victrix, paint ’em up, choose a set of rules from the many available and boom! project done. Oh how naïve we were.

In this post we’ll just talk figures, mainly because our journey was a classic example of fooling yourself into an easy project when like every other project any wargamer has ever done there is always more to it than meets the eye.

Having said ‘Victrix it is’, we thought “well maybe some samples would be a good idea, but probably not a whole box”. Dave did a search of eBay and a couple of sprues were bought and built up and along the way we got hold of a Warlord sprue for comparison – mainly because they were cheaper 🙂 The Victrix pikemen are really nice, good detail well realised, nice crisp mouldings, certainly a good choice; the cavalry though? well it’s not that they aren’t any good, the detail is just as good as the infantry but the horses are massive! Now admittedly you might say the Victrix are a little bit on the ‘heroic’ side but with the infantry that doesn’t seem to matter too much as they are all bunched together and most of the allies and enemies – Hoplites, Galatians, etc are in the same range so no problem. The riders are of the same proportions but stick them on the horses and they look way out of proportion, like some kind of bizarre optical illusion, and the horses are definitely overdone. We tried to rationalise this by saying “well they’re all from the same manufacturer and it isn’t like we’re going to be mixing metal and plastic” but the more we looked at them the more they just didn’t look right and by then I’d done enough research to know that even at the most basic level we were going to need more than just the standard box of Successor Heavy Cavalry to cover just the various iterations of ‘Companions’, never mind the allied Greek heavy cavalry, Seleucid cataphracts, satrap heavy cavalry, Asiatic light cavalry and Tarentine cavalry. The figures are multi part so with a bit of effort and imagination we could probably get past most of the issues we saw but the elephant in the room (couldn’t resist!) was the size of the horse, we just couldn’t get past it, which was a bit of a problem as, a) you can’t have Successors without cavalry, and b) part of our cost analysis was based on £2.25 per plastic cavalry piece against around £3.30 per metal cavalry piece (unless you want to be robbed by Foundry at £4.60 per cavalry piece!).

On the up side we realised that the Victrix and Warlord pikemen were compatible, not in the same unit (the Warlord figures are a slighter build than the Victrix), but as side by side units the difference is lost in the mass of pikes, which was a pleasant revelation because we had thought it would have to be one or the other based on comments on LAF and Twitter. Also on the upside was the availability of Hoplite mercenaries from Victrix, four boxes potentially, which became important when research revealed that mercenary hoplites were in virtually every army and in significant numbers. Also on the upside was the availability of those pesky skirmishers, again four boxes that would cover all our needs for slingers, bowmen, javelin men and peltasts. So, given that the infantry contingent is by far the most numerous, and a Victrix pikemen came out at 75p compared to around £1.30 for the metal counterpart and we were looking at about 200 infantry per side (based on our projection of what we thought it would look like), the maths was definitely favouring the plastics and the range of figures was supporting that – phew!

But what to do about the cavalry? Well it was looking like we were going to have to go the metal route but what ranges were out there? What spread was there within any given range? How well would any range scale up against the plastic infantry?

A shout out on LAF and a a swift google search revealed we didn’t need to worry much about availability. Some of the ranges were the older offerings that had been around for some time like, Foundry, Essex and Old Glory, some were ones we just didn’t realise like, Gripping Beast and 1st Corps and some were new (to us at least) like, Aventine and Armorum & Aquila. Samples were duly sent for unless we already had the odd figure lying around in our lead mountains or the pricing was extortionate (Foundry at £1.75 per figure) and I put together a cost comparison sheet to help us understand how much we could end up spending, which was quite revealing.

Of all the ranges the Aventine is without doubt the most exhaustive and if we had been doing the project in all metal with money being no object (remember this was a whim project) we would have absolutely gone for these, lovely detailed castings covering different armour types (6 for the infantry I think), different helmet styles, a plethora of cavalry castings covering Macedonian, Seleucid & Ptolemaic forces, early and late era, a virtual cornucopia. The only but (and of course there would be a but!) was the horses (again!), I thought they looked a little small, a bit like ponies (which is actually probably closer to history), in fairness Dave didn’t agree and against their own infantry it didn’t matter but against the plastic pikemen, even the Warlord it just didn’t quite work. A time wasting spin off from this was me then buying a pack of riders from them and then trying them out on different ‘bigger’ horses, a real blind alley I should never have gone up.

Ultimately it came down to either 1st Corps or or Gripping Beast that looked best against the pike, both did a fairly decent range with Gripping Beast edging it in terms of spread and theirs was the newer range but then we got into the cost and that was quite revealing, not just for these two but for all the ranges we considered.

Yes, I know cost isn’t everything, but when you are making a significant purchase in one go rather than dragging it out from one convention to the next I think it is. I wont bore you with the full analysis I put together but here are the highlights.

We looked at, Aventine, Essex, Armorum & Aquila, Old Glory, Foundry, Crusader, Gripping Beast and 1st Corps, and considered the depth of the range and the cost per figure. Where I use the phrase ‘cost per figure’ here I’m referring to horse and rider and comparing it to the baseline of £2.25 per figure for the Victrix Companion Cavalry and £15 for the elephant & crew.

As already stated the Aventine range is the most extensive plus it does various elephants but no scythed chariots. The cost per figure comes out at £3.23 and the elephants come in at £16.

The Essex range has a decent enough spread including Bactrians but this is an old range and to charge £3.75 per figure and £19.35 for the elephant is quite frankly a bit of a cheek.

Armorum & Aquila is a small range, not much bigger than the Victrix spread and the figures are a little bit on the smaller size; price per figure is £3.25 and no elephants.

Old Glory is a compact range, basically one of each of what you’d need and comes in at £3.20 per figure and £17.50 for the elephant.

The Foundry range is small so not a lot of use and at £4.60 per figure and £34 for an elephant they are just taking the piss.

Crusader is another small range with no elephant and rolls in at £3.30 per figure.

Gripping Beast is a nice range covering most of the bases and relatively new coming in at £3.30 per figure and £18.50 for the elephant.

1st Corps is again a decent enough range covering most of the bases although a little bit cataphract heavy which come in at £2.50 per figure or £2.25 if you go for the unit packs and £16.20 for the elephant and they also do a scythed chariot at £12.

As you can see 1st Corps absolutely aced it on price and even the slightly more expensive elephant beats most of the opposition and it’s part metal. We did a bit of working out using the unit packs and realised that two of their packs of 12 would give us three of our 8 man cavalry units and as we keep saying to ourselves ‘the cavalry are not the main ingredient’. We checked the samples again to make sure we were happy with the sizing and I reckon we’ve convinced ourselves it’ll be ok, so soon a couple of hundred quid order to 1st Corps will be sent off for at least the basic cavalry we’re going to need for most armies. We also mix and matched the other various sample figures we’d bought and sent out to be painted and reckon we can mix them in to flesh out the numbers so nothing wasted there.

So that’s the figure journey begun, some figures are being painted as we speak, we picked up some painted Warlord pikemen off eBay so that’s a bit of a start, what we really need is for Victrix to get their stock levels sorted so we can buy loads of pikes!!

Next post we’ll look at the quest for a set of rules – what a nightmare!

Thinking About Successors

Back in the summer of 2019, when the world was young and we were in the casual days of post 1st lockdown Dave and I were sitting in the garden chatting nonsense, like most wargamers do in an idle moment, when Dave posed the inevitable question “is there any period you wish you’d done?” Somewhat taken aback because we’d agreed back in 2018 that we were not going to do any more big periods, just additions to existing ones, and put our efforts into contained skirmish efforts, I answered without hesitation, Successors.

Now Dave is an C18th & C19th man who has very willingly indulged my desires for early time frames such as Arthurian and Italian Wars so I readied myself to snobbishly prattle on about the post Alexandrian world but was stopped by Dave’s response, “Oh yeah, Seleucids and Ptolemaics, that could be interesting”. Serves me right for trying to be all superior – shame on me! The conversation then gathered pace as I waffled on about having started the period twice but given up because I couldn’t find a set of rules that worked for me, it was expensive in 28mm (even back in the day!) and reminded him that one of our group who was doing Romans to face off to the later Macedonians I was doing at the time, left in a huff over a perceived slight taking his Romans with him! Undaunted, Dave brushed aside my pessimism and lack of excitement (actually I was really excited but didn’t want a 3rd failed project on my hands) and hooked me with “but there are all these plastic ancients now, surely that could work?” And I was in, ready to get researching and costing the potential of such a project.

Macedonian Phalangites - Victrix Limited

As everyone knows we are unashamedly 28mm players and when it comes to ‘proper games’ (ie not skirmishes) we like it to be a significant visual spectacle, not a couple of units and that’s your ‘army’, so this was going to be quite an investment in figures which meant quite a financial investment too. Our agreed going in point was therefore plastics from the two main suppliers, Victrix (above example taken from Google Images) or Warlord Games; the Victrix range is an extensive broad brush Ancients offering while the Warlord range is more Roman centric. Both offer a clear economic advantage over that of their metal cousins but could it be enough? More of this later.

Before we got too excited though and dived headfirst into something that could easily turn into a quagmire I thought I better do a bit of research so that I could remind myself what it was all about and also give Dave some detail so that he could back out if it wasn’t quite what he expected – the rest of the group were in deep pandemic hiding so this really was going to be a two hander.

The research was great fun and really got me fired up; I dusted off my old classics like Bar Kochva’s ‘The Seleucid Army’ and Scullard’s ‘The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World’, got out all my old copies of Slingshot (even re-joined The Society of Ancients), and indulged myself in some newer works like Waterfield’s ‘Dividing the Spoils’ and Robert’s & Bennett’s ‘The Wars of Alexander’s Successors’. From these and others plus good old Wikipedia I was able to put together a three page document for Dave detailing the various kingdoms, the different armies and the campaigns & battles of the Diadochi – so many of these! I’d quite forgotten what a brilliant (and short) period it is, murder, betrayal, shifting alliances, highs and lows of ambition and a whole cast of characters, all in 50 odd years! Once all the original Successors are dead it’s not so exciting as it settles down into the main kingdoms but still with battles and campaigns to be fought and we do have Galatians and we always have elephants! It all gets a bit boring once the Romans start interfering so I suggested we cut it off before that.

The document served it’s purpose, I was completely fired up and Dave realised there was a lot more scope than just Seleucid v Ptolemaic and as he rightly pointed out we could do standard pike blocks and standard companion cavalry and then just mix and match for whatever armies we fancied doing plus a few exotics to round out the specific army; this approach would also mean it would be a true joint project, no need for one guy doing Seleucid and one guy doing Antigonid, if we were clever we could just build a joint collection that we could just choose from each time we played.

There was still a lot of work to do; what actual figures, size of units, rules, terrain, the painting of that many figures, and I hope to do a couple more posts on these (what turned out to be) bumpy roads, but for us to get started the costs needed to work. Time for some simple maths. A box of Victrix phalangites retailed at £19.95 for 27 figures so 74p a figure and the Warlord equivalent at £22 for 40 figures so 55p a figure compared to metal foot figures anywhere between £1.20 & £1.75 a figure. On the cavalry front the plastic guys come in at £2.25 (less for the lighter stuff) compared to anywhere up to £4.60 for the metal; foolishly I also looked at the cost of metal elephants, OMG! This had become a no brainer, plastic it was with Victrix becoming the primary brand, mainly because of the range of boxes, we reckoned we could use around 12 boxes and the more boxes you bought the bigger the discount which was particularly attractive in terms of the pike.

So a project was born and all from a casual conversation in the garden – bloody lockdown! We’ve moved on a bit since then but cautiously so I’ll do another post on the rest of the journey regarding figures, which has had a few twists and turns, and a post on choosing rules which really has been quite an eye opener!

Stay tuned.

Syrian Street Fighting

Back in February of 2019 I gamed on Gareth Lane’s Chechen/Russian street landscape (see ‘Away Game With Welsh Chechens) and besides having a great time I also much admired the buildings – hand built by a guy he knew. Not long after the event the gang did our cartel game at Hammerhead in March (see Sicario Part VI: The End!) – still the last show game so far, and chatting with Dave afterward we thought it would be good to do a similar game with our ever growing modern middle east collection, which was becoming more and more Syrian oriented, but for it to be realistic it would need to be far more ‘distressed’ than our pristine cartel set up, although we could still use the boards with the roads.

At first I looked around for mdf kits and yes there are a few individual buildings (good old TTC) but not what I was really looking for, we could use our existing middle east building but they are really for villages or the outskirts of towns, or maybe I or one of the group could scratch build? But then I asked myself, but what am I really looking for? Well it doesn’t take much of a Google search to show what the streets of most Syrian cities look like and it’s pretty desperate although oddly iconic and very reminiscent of images of Stalingrad – cue Gareth and his builder.

Contact with Gareth revealed the guy was Chris at Task Force Terrain and in April our journey began.

At first it was all about what I really wanted and what could reasonably fit on the existing street grid so a steady stream of e mails back and forth slowly inched us towards a mutual understanding of where we were going. As an ex automotive industry project manager I have to say this was the most constructive project experience I have ever had and I cannot praise Chris enough for his energy and enthusiasm for the project tempered by what was practical to build and be usable on the table top.

The months April and May were spent exchanging ideas on what buildings would be best for the different parts of the street grid; single ruins at the corners, less damaged apartment style buildings for the double spaces and what to put in the centre as a feature building. Also, mundane stuff like what kind of base to put the buildings on (3mm hardboard eventually), whether there should be pavements around the buildings and should they be damaged, how high could we go and how much access could players get to the buildings and what colour should the buildings be? Strangely this all became increasingly important as we went along; the feature building entailed a lot of back and forth e mails accompanied by real life images for consideration and it was Chris’s idea to go for a hospital, very much a feature of news reports and a potential focal point for a game. The question of pavements was something I hadn’t considered even though they are staring you in the face in every image from the cities but of course space for pavement means less space for building and what size pavement anyway? The height of the buildings became an issue of practicality from a gaming point of view and a construction point of view; too tall and gamers can’t reach across the table and the more floors there are the more messing about taking floors off and on; in the end we opted for small apartment ruins at the corners only two stories high, then larger apartments/office blocks of three stories with removable roofs and top floor and then a straight drop to the ground floor and the centre piece hospital four stories in two halves with removable roof and floors.

The colour palette was decided by Chris doing swatches and sending me photos which worked surprisingly well as I think you’ll agree.

It was during this development that Chris found a picture of a Syrian police station and that became the prototype for one of our double sized buildings.

Into June and the serious work started, well for Chris anyway, I was thinking “I wonder if we could get this ready for The Other Partizan” – oh how we laughed!

As he progressed Chris sent me images of what the raw buildings would look like and the option for limited changes but as we’d discussed the look at length this was essentially a rubber stamp exercise.

Come October and the photos of the finished articles started flowing in and I was completely blown away by the level of detail and had one of those rare moments of experiencing a vision actually realised. Truly stunning.

All that I needed to do now was motor down to Chris and pick them all up. Easy! Well yes if we weren’t in tiers (I was in bloody tears!) and where I lived was different to where Chris lived and the rules kept changing and then no one could go anywhere! At first we just agreed Chris would hold onto the buildings for a while because we’d be able to travel soon……… Obviously it soon became apparent that no one was going anywhere and my project was cluttering up Chris’s workshop so reluctantly I agreed he’d courier them up to me.

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As you can see, 8 boxes arrived one day via DPD, who it must be said did a fine job of delivering in tact, ably assisted by Chris’s magnificent packaging skills.

Having duly unpacked and set them up on the the streets boards on the gaming table they just sat there for several weeks and I dreamt of us gaming on them someday but as that day seemed forever far off I decided to solo game a Spectre game the other week over several nights just to get some use before storing them away for the great gaming return! Hopefully this game will appear with a narrative on LAF in due course but in the meantime here are some shots of the action.

That’s all for this month next month we’ll have a look at the joint project born out of the ashes of lockdown – Successors.

Back To The Blog

With the arrival of 2021 after the long dark night of 2020 I looked at the blog and realised I hadn’t posted since March of last year and asked myself the question why?

The most obvious answer was “well there was a lockdown dummy!” and still is of course, with the obvious result of there being no shows to talk about, no games to post pictures of and no projects to bore everyone about – well not quite but that’ll be another post 🙂 But actually I think it was a bit more than that, partly depression – what’s the point and all that, partly lack of will – who am I going to play with, but mostly the lack of the creative spark engendered by being around others. Personally the death of a close family member early in the pandemic was a blow which was probably not properly dealt with and the ‘sadmin’ took a lot longer to deal with than normal and the clearing of the deceased belongings and property is still with us as a family and as anyone who has been through this it does grind you down.

For us as a Group the initial lockdown stopped us stone dead, we squeezed in Hammerhead (well me and Dave) which was a slightly surreal experience, but as most of the gang are in the vulnerable age group they went into isolation and I haven’t seen them since. That left Dave and I to make the best of the various versions of the rules to meet occasionally in the usual venue socially distanced and with the windows open and when that became untenable create a version of meeting outside where we gamed in Dave’s shed (it’s a big shed!) with the door and windows open but then of course it became too bloody cold and that was the end of that.

Wargaming in the shed did manage to keep us reasonably sane and gave Dave a chance to fully utilise the large playing surface (10 foot x 6 foot) with big set piece battles using a lot of our collections – “bang ’em all on!” No skirmish games here! Just like in the usual venue we could leave the game up and subject to Dave’s shift patterns we meandered our way though several of our big periods (Renaissance, ACW, Carlist & Sikh Wars) allocating 2 or 3 days per battle – what else were we going to do!

The problem with just two of you of course is that you do get a bit comfortable, there isn’t the variable of someone else saying “hold on, what about……” and the banter/argument is two dimensional. On the plus side we did have the time to sit in the garden and just chat, mainly about the hobby, but life under lockdown generally and made some plans for a future we had no idea of when it would arrive. The big decision was us deciding to go full on for Successors in 28mm, no skirmish gaming, no few element bases pretending to be an army but full on; completely mad but that’s what a pandemic lockdown does to you! Original plan was to be well on the way by now but the prolonged pandemic has meant we haven’t been able to get together to really plan it out but I’ll save the full story for the next blog post.

The big decision for me personally was to get a Syrian city scape done to further utilise the 4 foot square road intersections I did for the Sicario games. This was something I’d wanted to do for some time to further enhance our Spectre games so I contracted the job out and was over the moon at the result; this too will be a follow up blog.

That’s enough I think for a getting back to the blog mind set. More to follow – what else am I going to do?

Away Game With Welsh Chechins

This game came about thanks to an invite from Gareth Lane, fellow twitterite, who suggested I came down to south wales for a game on his excellent Russian terrain of Russian Federation v Chechins using the Bolt Action Modern rules. So leaving the rest of the gang behind, mainly due to shift patterns and ‘real life’, I battled through the torrential rain to fly the Westbury flag in far off Wales.

I took on the role of the Russian Federation fielding a force of regulars – 3 infantry sections plus HMG, Grenade Launcher & Sniper support mainly of Inexperienced morale with a range of transport  – BRDM, BYT80, BMP2 & ZSU23-24 all of Regular morale. On top of this was the good stuff being a Spetsnaz section plus Light Mortar & MMG support with an Mi17 transport helicopter and HIND gunship. Both had a dog team assigned to sniff out booby traps (of which Gareth kept telling me there would be many and deadly – psychological warfare!) – more of the dog teams later.

Gareth took the Chechins fielding a mixed force of Veteran Mujahadeen & their warlord Arbi Barayev, Regular Chechin Wolf Pack infantry sections and Inexperienced Chechin rebels plus HMG, Grenade Launcher & Sniper support and a captured BMP2. Also an array of anti personnel & anti tank mines that would be positioned prior to game start.

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Federation objectives were to seize both ends of the tram line and hold at the end of the game thus denying the rebels a vital supply life line and as a bonus kill the warlord Arbi Barayev. The Chechins had the rather simpler objective of protecting the supply line and bloodying the Russians.

The rules were new to me. Gareth had advised me to watch some YouTube play through videos, which I duly did, and to be frank wasn’t too impressed but my golden rule is ‘your house, you rules’ so decided to go with the flow and rely on Gareth to walk me through what could and could not be done.

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The Federation troops were deployed on the eastern edge of the board having three possible entry points at which at least half of the troops must start the game. The Spetsnaz were air mobile and couldn’t enter until turn 3 in what was a 7 turn game (with a random option for an extra single turn). With an abundance of caution (inspired by fear of mines and ambush) I deployed one infantry section plus the the HMG and the ZSU at the northern most entry point – a mistake in a limited turn game as they couldn’t cover enough ground. At the centre point I deployed (over two turns) the other two infantry sections one in a BTR80, one in the BMP2 – the right tactics I think but see later rookie error. At the southern entry point was the BRDM containing the command element leading the way followed by the other BTR80 holding the Grenade Launcher team, the Sniper team and the dog team. The  Chechins were all unseen until Gareth deployed them at pre configured positions and some were in Ambush – a rules mechanism thing.

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The initial moves naturally belonged to the Federation. The northern team moved at Advance speed to start but realising this was too slow I had them Run and to hell with booby traps! Their objective was the northern end of the tram line where a unit of Chechins had materialised but desultory firing didn’t have much effect, the ZSU however which had moved down a parallel street was much more effective – 4 x turret mounted auto cannons at 3 dice a piece are great fun, definitely getting one of these for our Syrian games!  The centre forces moved into the broken terrain and the BMP2 disgorged it’s section and gave covering fire as they crossed the street under fire from Chechins further down, the BTR80 however didn’t deploy it’s troops (oops!) and so when a Chechin RPG came whizzing up the street it brewed up pretty quickly taking half the section with it. The southern force managed to deploy into some buildings to flank the Chechins at the end of the street opposite them with the dog sniffing out a booby trap, the sniper team getting up high and the Grenade Launcher team setting up nicely. The BTR80 got itself in an alley between two buildings which meant that though it couldn’t get hit it was no use in providing fire support so this role went to the BRDM once the commander had debussed.  At this point I was thinking ‘well I’ve drawn him out so I know where most of his stuff is but I’m not winning the fire fight and the tram line is a ways off’

Turn 4 saw the arrival of the good stuff. The HIND deployed to hover over the main street to support the Federation regulars – I didn’t quite get the hang of this to start with and the Mi17 hovered over the northern end of the tram line for the Spetsnaz to rappel down relatively safely due to the ZSU chewing up the Chechins at this end. The plan was now for the Spetsnaz to mop up so the regulars could secure this end and then proceed down the tram lines to the other objective but in the way were a Wolf Pack section in the adjacent street and the veteran Mujahedeen cunningly using the ruined factory as cover. It was going to be a race to the finish!

The HIND wasn’t as deadly as I thought it was going to be and I did have some heart stopping moments when the ambush HMG & Grenade Launcher revealed themselves on the roof top of a large apartment building and tried to bring it down – I could see the markers but couldn’t do anything until Gareth revealed them which is a bit of a clumsy rules mechanism as it could lead players avoiding a spot they wouldn’t necessarily avoid, however mutual good spirit avoided any problem. The plus of the volume of fire the HIND could deliver did however did ensure some judicious pin markers on the Chechins which prevented them overwhelming the Federation regulars at the southern end of the street who had by now lost their BRDM to an RPG and were holding on rather than advancing although this did mean the sniper team could get off some effective kills on the HMG and Grenade Launcher teams on the roof opposite.

In the centre of the action we had an exchange of BPM2 losses; the Chechin vehicle took out the Federation vehicle when I foolishly deployed side on which left the infantry sections there a bit in the air but a turn or two later, the ZSU, having run out of infantry to chew up poked its head round a corner and tore up the Chechin vehicle – love this vehicle!

At the northern end of the table the on foot regulars had got themselves into a bit of a firefight with a sniper they couldn’t hit and couldn’t really move due to the rebel BPM2 (soon to be brewed up) and the HMG team had triggered a booby trap and lost half their team. Spetsnaz to the rescue! They finished off the opposition using the MMG & infantry section while the Mortar team started lobbing shells into the ruined factory and the dog team used the available cover to loosen off a couple of shots which took out Arbi Baryev – spectacular! Now it all came together as the Spetsnaz raced against time; the Chechins advancing up the street alongside the tram lines were taken out and the HIND now hovered over the factory (narrowly avoiding a SAM missile fired on the last turn) raining fire on the Mujahedeen who although not all killed were so pinned they were going nowhere.

Time was called and a minor Russian victory declared having seized one end of the tram line and killed the Chechin warlord. I of course claimed that with the HIND hovering over the other end of the tram line and with most of the Chechins being eliminated – we counted around 40 dead, it was a Federation victory. What it was, was a victory for the hobby, two people who had never met, playing in the right spirit, no rule mongering but equally no silliness and having a thoroughly great day. Thank you Gareth for being a great host I hope we can have a repeat performance sometime soon in the Midlands.

A note on the rules. I’d never played them before but after a few turns they were surprisingly easy to pick up and despite my misgivings played well. Are they perfect? Well no, but what rule set is? They are not as nuanced as say Spectre but for a squad based game where you are effectively ignoring the individuals and concentrating on the whole they give a good game. Would I play them again? Yes.