Solo Wargamer

November 15, 2017

Dodge City Delights

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 2:47 pm

Theodore Ayrault Dodge

For those of us wargaming on a budget, one of the delights of modern tech is the ease with which we can access free and nearly-free resources that would have been beyond our means in an earlier age.

A case in point is the military writing of Theodore Ayrault Dodge.

After a military eduction in Berlin and further studies in London, Dodge fought in the union army during the American Civil War. He lost his right leg at Gettysburg, and rose to the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel. He subsequently served in the US War Department.

But the real passion in Dodge’s life was the history of warfare. Despite his disability, he travelled the length and breadth of Europe to visit the battlefields and other landmarks that dot the careers of warfare’s great captains. His extensive field research came to fruitition in his substantial volumes on Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus and Napoleon. When he died his final study, on Frederick the Great, was not yet finished.

To date I have read his books on Gustavus and Hannibal, and have just started his volume on Caesar. The writing is clear and elegant, and he includes a wealth of maps and battle plans. While his personal judgements on some matters – for example the military abilities of Sulla – have not all stood the test of time, Dodge always presents a cogent and well-argued case for his views.

Moreover his books are available free online as PDFs, or for a minimal cost via Kindle. Given the prohibitive amount that one sometimes has to spend on specialist military texts, this kind of resource is a real boon. I can highly recommend Dodge’s work as an addition to your reading list!

Gusty

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November 13, 2017

Elephants in the FoG

Filed under: Computer Gaming — Jay @ 8:23 pm

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One of the many good things about the recently released computer game Field of Glory II – Rise Of Rome is that it covers so much more than just the Romans and their enemies. Right now I’m fighting an Indian civil war campaign against the game’s challenging AI, which boasts a total of six difficulty levels.

I’m fielding a classical Indian army against Mountain Indian opponents. Think lots and lots of elephants, heavy and light chariots, field artillery, and swarms of massed bowmen. The army is bulked out with massed javelin infantry, light archers and horse archers, and some horribly ineffective cavalry (at least, they’re ineffective the way I use them).

For this game, designer Richard Bodley Scott has gone for a completely different approach to campaigns from the one used in his earlier releases Pike & Shot and Sengoku Jidai. Instead of map movement, the player faces a series of linked challenges which can throw up different types of engagement. Although most battles are standard head-on confrontations, from time to time you may find yourself protecting a baggage train in a forested region, or facing an enemy rearguard with your reserve troops.

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The game keeps track of casualties and reinforcements, while you have to regularly detach troops for garrison duty, thereby depleting your field army as the war progresses. You can choose to stick to one difficulty level throughout the campaign, or you can opt instead for a gradual increase in difficulty, which will allocate more troops to your computer opponent. As your army gains battlefield experience your troops gain in elan, so that by the final cataclysmic confrontation – if you get that far – you may be fielding an army of tough veterans, but face a much larger enemy force.

There are a number of very good pre-loaded campaigns that come with FoG II, enabling you to relive the careers of Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Pyrrhus of Epiros, and Mithridates of Pontus. But the ‘sandbox’ option gives you the ability to play out a campaign with any of the armies included in the current release. And the first of what will doubtless be many user-generated custom campaigns have already been produced, in the shape of Paul59’s Antiochus the Great campaign and DasTactic’s Euteubor Campaign (Graeco-Bactrians vs all of their neighbours).

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The scope for such campaigns is immense. There are a total of 48 nations and factions in the base game under the following broad headings – Romans, Hellenistic Kingdoms, Carthaginians, Syracuse, Spanish, Numidians and Moors, Celts, Illyrians, Thracians, Spartacus, Jewish Kingdoms, Skythians/Saka, Sarmatians, Parthia, Armenia and (of course) Indians. Within these categories there are further choices to be made. For instance, the Hellenistic Kingdoms allow you to play Macedonians, Indo-Parthians, Western Greeks, Seleucids (in four different flavours) and so on. There’s no shortage of options to maintain interest, which makes for great replayability value.

The AI is a huge step forward compared to the original Field of Glory computer game, providing a viable (and at times quite unforgiving) opponent. Gone too are the quirky OTT combat results and the frequent sight of your (or your opponent’s) units breaking formation to randomly charge an approaching enemy. The graphics have improved too, whilst retaining something of the ‘toy soldier’ feel of the original game.

Anyhow, must dash. My howdah has been re-upholstered, Nellie is getting restless, and the next battlefield awaits my tattered but proud Indian army…

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November 15, 2015

Richard Borg’s ‘The Great War’

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 10:00 pm

I’m a big fan of Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors game system, especially for solo play. This year has seen Richard port his system into a whole new era of conflict – the so-called ‘Great War’. I haven’t bought the game yet as my playing time is very restricted at the moment, but I thought I’d bring together some of the resources I’ve been checking out prior to deciding whether to invest in a copy myself.

First up is a half-hour review by Marco, whose reviews are generally bang on the money:

Marco’s review is very positive, giving the game a ten out of ten, despite the issues with removing figures from sprues.

Next up is a shorter review by ‘The Chief’ at the Dice Tower:

Check out the Board Game Geek website for more on the game, including plans for future expansions “…which will feature early war, Eastern Front scenarios, tanks, airplanes, other national armies, plus more special personnel figures…”

Everything I’ve seen to date is really positive about this game, which ties in with my experience of RB’s other Commands & Colors games. I’m particularly interested in the possibility, as expansions come out, of tweaking the game to cover the Russian Civil War. So all in all I’m pretty sure I’ll be adding this to my collection some time in the next twelve months.

November 7, 2015

Never Fight Ubba!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 6:49 am

The Last Kingdom

I’ve just caught up with the latest episode of The Last Kingdom, the BBC’s adaptation of the first two books of Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Saxon’ series. I’ve got mixed feelings about it so far. On the plus side, it’s a well-made adaptation with fairly decent cast, scripts and production values – and it covers a period of history which is rarely seen on the telly. On the down side, truncating the books into such a short series (eight episodes in all) necessarily results in sacrificing detail to pace, with some questionable changes to the plot-line as a result.

It has other disadvantages too. Uhtred’s character is under-developed, and his choices (in his shifting allegiance between Saxons and Danes) come across as perfunctory and capricious. While the books are a good read they’re not Cornwell’s best work – for that I would recommend his Arthurian trilogy – and the story suffers further in its abbreviated treatment here. The link between Uhtred’s story and Alfred’s rise to preeminence seems tenuous at times, at least in these early episodes. Moreover Cornwell’s sympathetic treatment of paganism, and his virulent hostility to Christianity, have been written out of the adaptation – presumably because it’s aimed at an American market which would find Cornwell’s attitude unpalatable in the extreme.

There are also, predictably, some historical oddities. A couple of examples from the latest episode will suffice to make the point. In an important scene, Uhtred is shown training the Saxons to improve their fighting technique, by showing them how to use the  apparently alien – and, by implication, quintessentially Danish – tactic of forming a shield wall. As far as I’m aware, this was pretty much standard practice for Saxon armies by the time of the period covered here, so what we’re shown is  something of an anomaly. Again, in the same scene, the Saxons are shown using oblong rather than round shields – a form of protection more usually associated with the Rus, but presumably adopted here so that the Saxons can be distinguished  from their Danish enemies in future battle scenes. Still, at least the Vikings don’t wear horned helmets, so it could have been worse!

On the other hand, the series is fun to watch, and there are some standout performances – particularly from David Dawson as Alfred and Ian Hart (always excellent) as Beocca. And there’s the rub – whatever my criticisms might be, I know I’ll keep right on watching. Purely as entertainment, The Last Kingdom is easy on the eye and holds the attention.

Naturally enough, all of this reminded me of the solo scenario I wrote a couple of years ago based on the same novels. It covers the battle of Ethandun, and is split into two parts. Click on the links below to go straight to the relevant page. And if you do decide to go into battle, don’t forget to keep your shield wall nice and tight – whatever shape your shields are!

https://solowargamer.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/the-battle-of-ethandun-part-1/

https://solowargamer.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/the-battle-of-ethandun-part-2/

October 23, 2015

Army Royal – The Last Apostle

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 4:56 pm
Mired Gun (copyright Stuart Mulligan)

Mired Gun (copyright Stuart Mulligan)

Stuart Mulligan has posted a wonderful battle report for the game he played with Simon Chick based on my Last Apostle scenario. It’s beautifully produced, with lots of eye candy (see sample above!). Check it out here –

Stuart’s Work Bench

Great work and an inspiration for me to get blogging again in the near future!

February 4, 2015

Campaign Maps – The Easy Way!

Filed under: Campaigns,General,Scenarios — Jay @ 12:06 pm

Part of the island of Nylandia

Wargame campaigns have been on my mind a lot recently, after reviewing William Silvester’s book on the subject.

I’ve dusted down my copies of Tony Bath and Don Featherstone’s ground-breaking books covering the same topic, and have been mulling over some of the possibilities.

All three books spend time discussing that first essential of any campaign, however modest or ambitious – the campaign map. In this regard, it’s surprising how little things have changed over the years. Don’s book was originally published in 1970, with Tony’s following a few years later (though it subsequently went through several reprints). William Silvester’s book came out just two years ago. All three books consider the various types of drawn or printed map that are available, and the options for measuring and recording map movement.

Back in the ‘good old days’ the possibilities for acquiring suitable ready-made maps were somewhat limited, and could be expensive. Old classroom maps of the biblical Middle East, tourist souvenir maps, and Ordnance Survey Maps were among the most popular (and, in the first two instances, rather quaint) options. Map movement could be recorded using plastic overlays and marker pens, or coloured pins, always bearing in mind that the map itself was valuable enough to be treated with respect and re-used again and again.

When it came to creating a map from scratch, particularly a map of an imaginary continent or other geographical area, drawing the map by hand was the obvious – indeed the only – option back in the day. Tony Bath famously created his mythical continent of Hyboria, where he fought out battles with other well-known wargaming figures like Charles Grant, in preference to re-fighting a purely historical campaign or using an existing historical map. He makes a convincing case for going down the ‘imaginary’ route (Setting Up A Wargames Campaign, page 7):

“Having at various times tried all three courses, I have no hesitation in saying that I believe the third, of setting up your own continent, to be far and away the best. With a world of your own, the limitations are only those of your own imagination together with a certain sense of realities. For instance, within the boundaries of my own continent of Hyboria existed armies and cultures ranging from the Ancient Egyptian to the 13th Century mediaeval enabling me to make use of the whole ancient-medieval period.”

This is certainly the approach that most immediately appeals to me. Creating my own mythical continent, peopled with a mixture of ancient and mythical nations, has an innate ‘wow’ factor to it. The opportunity to give my various DBA and HoTT armies a run-out against each other, as part of an over-arching narrative, feels too good to resist. I’m planning to start work on this shortly!

So what options are there for creating my map, and for tracing movements on it once it’s been brought to life? My drawing skills are not exactly my strong point, and it would certainly be nice to produce something that has more visual appeal than a rough hand-drawn map. And working with a ‘physical’ map, drawn up on squared or hex-based paper – or using a square or hex acetate overlay – sounds like a rather messy option in this digital era.

In the past I’ve tried one or two cut-price computer-aided drawing packages (CADs), but I’ve found them a bit fiddly to use, and the results less than impressive. Nor has the end product solved the problem of logging and marking map movement as a campaign progresses. So I’ve got to thinking whether other options might be available – preferably ones that come in at a budget price.

The solution, it turns out, was close at hand all along. And I’m sure it’s one that has occurred to other wargamers too, so I certainly wouldn’t presume to claim any originality for the idea!

Like many other gamers, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the years playing the various incarnations of Sid Meier’s excellent computer game Civilization, with Civ4 my favourite version. Now, Civ4 happens to have a fantastic in-game editing facility called WorldBuilder. Indeed, one of the keys to the success of the game is the ease with which an enthusiastic community of online gamers is able to create new scenarios for the core game, and – crucially for me – new maps and worlds as an essential part of that. Over the last year or two most of my games of Civ4 have been based in worlds that I’ve either tweaked or that I’ve created myself from scratch.

Civ4‘s WorldBuilder – which comes free with the main program – may seem a little daunting at first, but with a bit of practice it turns out to be straightforward and intuitive to use. The results, once you’ve learned the basics, are visually impressive and highly flexible. You can build an island, a continent or indeed a whole world to your own personal specifications, then drill down to whatever level of detail fits with your campaign requirements. You can add production facilities, resources, fields, mines and buildings to your cities and their environs. You can build new roads and railways, surround a strategic location with a string of forts, or colonize an island to expand your nation’s borders. You can keep it as simple as you choose, or add layers of complexity if fine detail is your thing.

Even better, via a few mouse clicks you can go back into that self-created world any time you like to add or change its features and the location of the units depicted on it. You can mark the movement of armies, the capture or plunder of cities, the progress of fleets and supply trains, the stock-piling of munitions and the building or burning of villages, towns and forts. You can use the program to chart small actions or large – to monitor off-table movement in one small corner of your continent, to set and execute an ambush in a wooded valley, or to move whole battalions at the grand strategic level.

By opting to switch on the ‘grid view’, you have a built-in tool for measuring map movements, one square at a time.

Civ4 will also help with record-keeping, enabling you to save multiple copies of each map to give you a permanent record of your campaign. You can zoom in or out to print maps at whatever level you choose, providing you with a hard copy to work with, or a digital copy to add in to your virtual campaign diary.

Once you’ve got used to the idea of using Civ4 not as a game per se, but purely as an editor, it really does seem to tick all the boxes as a campaign and mapping tool. Note that this is quite distinct from playing Civilization with the world you’ve created in the usual way – what I’m suggesting means that you’re restricted to using it in WorldBuilder (i.e. ‘edit’) mode only. Each time you load the scenario you’ve created, you go straight back into the WorldBuilder to continue your campaign moves, edit the map and so on.

Whether you use one of the many worlds created by the online Civilization community, tweak a computer-generated world, or build your own new world from scratch, I would seriously recommend giving it a try. Retailing for just a few pounds, I reckon it’s a sound investment for the budding wargames campaigner!

Illustrations

Top of page: part of my newly-created island of Nylandia – an imaginary island created for a mini-campaign set in the Pike & Shot era. As you can see, this mini-campaign is going to be nice and simple!

Bottom: zoomed-in shot showing the Swedish port of Svalbard, part of Nylandia and the base of operations for Gustavus’s invasion force.

Resources

Civ4 Fanatics Forum – Creation and Customization Section. Everything you need to know to build your own world!

Svalbard

 

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