Jay's Wargaming Blog

February 2, 2019

Machiavellian Renaissance HoTT

Filed under: General — Jay @ 11:47 am


by Jay Blackwood…

Contrary to the bad press he’s received, Nicolo Machiavelli was a nice boy – I mean, just look at that sweet smile! On the other hand, when it came to pondering military matters, he was a bit of a duffer. He believed pikemen would be outmatched by troops wielding sword and buckler; that firearms and artillery would have a limited impact on the contemporary battlefield; and that cavalry would mainly function as skirmishers. His errors stemmed, according to the historian Sir Charles Oman, from a misreading of recent battles and – crucially – from a misguided attempt to apply the ‘lessons’ of classical warfare to the Renaissance era. In particular, Nicolo believed that the triumph of the Roman maniple over the Successor pike block would be replicated in his own day.

Machiavelli’s musings do however provide the basis for a rather different sort of Renaissance Italian army, as detailed below…

Basic Army

1 Knight General (the Prince) @ 2 AP = 2 AP

6 Blades (infantry armed with sword and buckler, Spanish style) @ 2 AP = 12 AP

2 Spears (Italian pikemen) @ 2 AP = 4 AP

2 Shooters (arquebusiers) @ 2 AP = 4 AP

1 Rider (light horse armed with crossbows or guns) @ 2 AP = 2 AP

Optional Extras

1 Sneaker (Machiavelli, with a cunning plan) @ 3 AP

1 Horde (admiring Princes) @ 1 AP

1 Artillery (catapult firing copies of classical military texts) @ 3 AP

1 Behemoth (Da Vinci tank) @ 4 AP

1 Magician (a Renaissance alchemist or necromancer) @ 4 AP

1 Flyer (Da Vinci flying contraption) @ 2 AP


An Italianate tower or fortified house – must have own library!


December 11, 2018

Of Mice And Frogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 9:21 pm

EPSON scanner image

Guest post on Brachatomyomachia for HoTT by Bernie F.

Homer was the most popular and admired poet of the ancient world. Of course he was also read in schools and probably bored thousands of pupils to death. So it’s not a surprise that parodies on his poems were written. One of them, a parody of the Iliad, had the title “Brachatomyomachia” (“The Battle of Frogs and Mice”) and in antiquity was even thought to be composed by Homer himself. Actually, however, it had probably been written in the 1st century BC by an author living in or near Alexandria in (or rather “at”, as the Ancients would have said) Egypt. The little poem of about 300 lines was very popular both in antiquity and the middle ages and has come down to us in dozens of manuscripts. And it still makes a good read.

A Summary

Psicharpax (“Thief of crumbs”), son of the mouse king Troxartes (“Bread nibbler”), drinking water from a lake meets the frog king Physignathos (“Chubby Cheek(s)”), who invites him to his “palace”. As the frog king swims across the lake, the mouse prince seated on his back, they are confronted by a frightening watersnake. The frog dives, forgetting about his passenger, who drowns. Another mouse witnesses the scene from the bank of the lake, and runs to tell everyone about it. The mice arm themselves for battle to avenge the frog king’s treachery, and send a herald to the frogs with a declaration of war. The frogs first blame their king, who by telling them a barefaced lie about the real circumstances persuades them to go to war. In the meantime, Zeus, seeing the brewing war, proposes that the gods take sides. Athena refuses, saying that both mice and frogs have done her a lot of mischief, adding “No, gods, let us refrain from helping these hosts, or one of us may get wounded with a sharp spear; for they fight hand to hand, even if a god comes against them.“ And so it happens. A bloody battle ensues and eventually the Mice prevail, not the least because of their great hero Meridarpax (“Stealer of small bits” or “Slice snatcher”, as an English translation says). As the gods themselves are afraid to fight this mighty hero and even Zeus’ thunderbolt does not stop the mice, he summons a force of crayfish or crabs to prevent complete destruction of the Frogs. Powerless against the armoured crabs, the Mice retreat, and the one-day war ends at sundown.

Heroes, Equipment And Troop Types

In the poem the mice seem to have more and greater heroes than the frogs. I prefer to classify the latter’s champions as »sneakers«, since a certain Prassaios (“Greencoat”) “presses through those in front of him” to support his king against the mouse king. In the same scene his companion Origanios (a name connected to “oreganum”; the English translation gives “Rueful”, while a German one I own prefers the more proper “Bitterling”) is called “the only one distinguishing himself in the frog army”, so he alone (or the king if accompanied by him) would deserve to classified as »hero«. Anyway, the mice should have at least one hero more than the frogs.

About the equipment of the mice we read: “First they fastened greaves to their shins made from yellow bean-pods broken into two parts which they had gnawed out, standing over them all night. Their breast plates were of skin stretched on reeds, skilfully made from a ferret they had flayed. For shields (aspides) each had the centrepiece of a lamp, and their spears (the Greek word used is longchai,  plural of longche) were
long needles, the all-bronze instruments of Ares, and the helmets upon their temples were chickpea shells.”

This equipment may be only that of a precious few, as the mice had only one ferret flayed and certainly won’t have a large numbers of lamps available. The rank and file may have been unarmoured and had simple shields, if any. Instead of the spear the mighty Meridarpax “splitting a chestnut-husk into two parts along the joint, put the two hollow pieces as weapons on his paws”.

The frogs’ equipment is similar to that of the mice, but made of more readily available material: “They wrapped around their shins leaves of mallows, and had breastplates made of fine green beet-leaves, and cabbage-leaves, skilfully fashioned, for shields (again aspides). Each one was equipped with a long, pointed rush for a spear (again, the word longchai is used, and smooth snail-shells to cover their heads.” (the first example of completely biodegradable armour, it seems). The differences between the several types of leg protection is interesting, by the way: the mice use classic greaves, while the frogs wrap a flexible (and presumably thick) material around their shins.

In spite of the breast plates and the round shields I prefer to classify the infantry of both sides as a kind of peltasts or, in the terms of HOTT, as »warband« (perhaps with an option for grading the mice as »spears«). This also suits the nature of the combatants.

The Frogs

Warband General @ 2AP – Physignathos, king of the frogs

Sneakers x 2 @ 3AP – Assorted frog champions like Seutlaios and Borborokoites

Warband x 7 @ 2AP – Ordinary frog warriors

Water Lurkers x 2  @ 1AP – Ambushers

Total Cost: 24AP
Stronghold: Pond.

Variants: Hero General (Physignathos if accompanied by several frog champions like Prassaios and Origanios) or Hero (Origanios) @ 4AP, God (Zeus or other Olympians, if
they ever dare to appear) @ 4AP, Behemoths @ 4AP or Beasts @ 2AP (the crayfish army send by Zeus), Hordes (less well motivated warriors) @ 1AP.

The Mice

Hero General x 1 @ 4AP – Troxartes, king of the mice, accompanied by several lesser heroes

Hero x 1 @ 4AP – “The Mighty Meridarpax”

Sneakers  x 1 @ 3AP – Lesser mouse champions

Warband x 6 @ 2AP – Ordinary mouse warriors

Land Lurker x 1 @ 1AP – Ambushers

Total Cost: 24AP
Stronghold: Mouse-hole.

Variants: Flyers (Mosquitos) @ 2AP, Spears (alternative classification of the warriors, may therefore not be used with warbands) @ 2AP, Hordes (less well motivated mice like Meridarpax’ father) @ 1AP

EPSON scanner image

August 31, 2018

HOTT Army Lists Completed!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 10:24 am

I’ve just finished uploading over a hundred HOTT army lists to the blog. Click here to access the lists, which are given in alphabetical order. This was going to be – as per my last post – a “long term” project; but it proved to be a fantastic alternative to doing the work I actually need to do, so I’ve completed it in double quick time. Procrastination is the mother of HOTT pages…

I’m planning to tidy the lists up a bit over time, improving the presentation and adding graphics/photos where possible.

If you have lists that you would like to add, or photographs of your HOTT elements/armies, please do get in touch by emailing me here – solowargamer@hotmail.com.

Once again, a big THANK YOU to Alan Saunders for giving permission to reproduce the lists here, and more generally for having done so much to ensure that HOTT didn’t just slip into the mists of time. Alan’s current website, which includes much HOTT material, can be found here – http://hordesofthethings.blogspot.com/

Lost World

August 27, 2018

HOTT Army Lists Project

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 10:21 pm


Hordes Of The Things – HOTT for short – is a set of ‘fast play’ rules written by Phil Barker, Richard Bodley Scott and Sue Laflin-Barker. Currently out of print, HOTT still has an active community of players. Its longevity is down to the fact that it combines the brevity of the DBA stable with a flexibility which allows players to create army lists for whatever takes their fancy. Armies have been drawn from a huge range of books, films, history and mythology. The only limit is the imagination of the player!

Alan Saunders has rightly been called The Godfather of HOTT for his pioneering work in creating and compiling army lists, rule variants, tips, eye candy and a plethora of miscellaneous HOTT-related material on his classic website ‘The Stronghold’. Since moving to Australia Alan has broadened his gaming interests, but is still an active HOTT player, and there is a wealth of useful HOTT material on his current website ‘The Stronghold Rebuilt’ – click here to visit it.

Alan has kindly given permission for me to gradually upload some of the original army lists onto this blog. This is very much a work in progress, as there are lots of lists to be added, so do check back periodically to find the latest additions.

Click here to access the army lists page, or use the menu sidebar on the right to access individual army lists directly (under Pages –> HOTT Army Lists).

January 18, 2018

The Wargaming Compendium

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 1:42 pm

The Wargaming Compendium

Some wargames books are simply a pleasure to read.

Henry Hyde’s Wargaming Compendium falls into that category. I recently invested in a hardback copy of the book, after making do with the Kindle version for a year or so. Eventually the lure of the eye candy was just too much to resist!

Henry’s book is very much in the tradition of old school wargames writing – think of it as a modern take on Don Featherstone’s seminal volumes. It’s a debt that Henry pays in full, not least in the fascinating section on the growth of wargames literature in the chapter which details the hobby’s history.

This chapter – ‘A History Of Wargaming’ – is actually one of my favourite parts of the book. The author covers the ‘birth of the toy warrior’, the adoption of wargames by the military, the early years of amateur gaming, the post-war expansion, the emergence of affordable miniatures, and the golden years of wargames literature. The chapter continues by covering modern developments and one or two controversies, for example the role of Games Workshop and the ‘Black Powder controversy’. It’s a delightful and very thorough overview of the subject, and puts the current situation of the hobby into a clear context.

The chapter on ‘Basic Concepts Of Wargaming’ is helfpul for newcomers, and also acts as a useful reminder of  some of our basic assumptions as gamers regarding scales of figure, landscape, time and how the vagaries of chance can be translated onto the tabletop. The chapter on ‘Choosing A Period’ is brief but thorough.

Henry really drills down into the fine detail of the hobby in the chapters covering the production of terrain and the painting of miniatures. These contain everything the newcomer needs to get started, but also contains tips and ideas that this seasoned veteran for one certainly found useful – I’m currently consulting the excellent section on painting horses (always a bugbear for me!).

The chapter on different sizes of wargame – ‘From Small To Large’ – starts with gladiatorial combat, then moves through the skirmish (using a detailed Wild West shoot-out scenario as illustration) right the way through to pitched battles on the grand scale. As with every other section of the book, Henry combines a plethora of tools and tips with wonderful illustrations, and comprehensive resources that bring the ideas to life – for example a printable Roman arena, and highly detailed Wild West skirmish rules. Nor does the author neglect the campaigning aspect of the game; there are 24 pages on the subject including a ruleset!

Talking of rules, the book includes Henry’s own rules for the Horse & Musket era – ‘Shot, Steel & Stone’. This is not really my wargames period, so I’ve only skimmed the rules, but they are as comprehensive as one might expect from what has gone before. He follows up this chapter with another that provides a detailed walkthrough of an encounter using the rules, which should help a newcomer put them into context.

Also included is a chapter on ‘Advice For The Digital Age’ – which includes some very sound tips on getting the most out of your digital camera when photographing miniatures – and a comprehensive section on resources.

Another of my favourite chapters is the one on ‘Other Aspects Of Wargaming’. This crams in short sections on naval, air and pirate wargames; role playing and pulp gaming; multiplayer gaming; and – last but certainly not least! – a few pages on solo wargaming that even includes a mention of this blog!

All in all it’s a great read, a beautifully produced book that’s copiously illustrated and well thought out. It’s destined for classic status in my humble opinion, and should take its place on every wargamer’s bookshelf next to volumes by Don Featherstone, Stuart Asquith, Charles Grant and Terence Wise.

January 11, 2018

God Cannot Abide Complexity

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 11:55 am
Götz von Berlichingen

Götz ‘Er kann mich im Arsche lecken’ von Berlichingen.


I believe it was Götz von Berlichingen (pictured above) in John Arden’s play Ironhand (an adaptation of Goethe’s original drama about the man) who uttered the memorable line “God cannot abide complexity”.

Götz is an interesting if thoroughly obnoxious character whose history merits further study. I have to say though that I agree with him about the whole complexity thing. If he ever said that – which he probably didn’t. Although he is credited with inventing the insult “lick my arse” – and that’s not to be sniffed at.

Anyhow, as far as I’m concerned, Phil Barker and Richard Bodley Scott’s ruleset Hordes of the Things was a cracking example of rules that were relatively easy to master, but which delivered a game that rewarded skill and subtlety at the highest level (it also rewarded the throwing of lots of sixes, but most rulesets do that). I’ve never really seen the need for anything more complicated when it comes to tabletop battles.

Even Hordes could perplex the newcomer though. I fought my first ever game against a near-legendary Australian wargamer called Thomo the Lost, who almost certainly let me win. In the process though he gently pointed out that I might do better if I grouped my units together in future, rather than deploy and move each one separately – I’d need a lot less ‘pips’ per turn if I did that. A genuinely nice man, Thomo, and by easing me into the game he ensured that I’d come back for more rather than run screaming from the room!



Iron prosthetic hand worn by Götz von Berlichingen.


Rules are truly a minefield for the newbie with little or no experience of gaming. Obvious points can be missed. Complexities are rarely grasped at first sight. Of course there are those players – we’ve all come across them – who have minds like finely tuned clockwork mechanisms, able to compute and model and project at a mere glance. Sadly my mind doesn’t work like that. It’s more like a wheezy old Atari that’s been left in the garage during a particularly damp winter. Hence the need to avoid unnecessary complexity wherever possible.

If simplicity is the keynote in cobbling together a basic ruleset for hex wargaming – my current project – then affordability is another important goal. Having invested in some Hexon scenery recently, I’ve discovered that they have a series of hex-based rulesets available for free on their website. While these rules look pretty good, they’re clearly the finished article rather than a starter set. I may ‘mine’ them for ideas, but I doubt I’ll adopt them.

One of the reasons for that is the affordability issue. I have lots of armies consisting of around twelve to fifteen bases or ‘elements’ – a legacy of my Hordes and DBA background. I don’t want to have to invest in lots more units for each army, simply so that I can mass them in groups as per the Kallistra rules. Those rules use several bases per hex in order to (a) produce a nice ‘mass battle’ look on the tabletop, and (b) to allow for logging of casualties by removal of bases.

Now the whole casualty-logging business is a topic in itself, but after a lot of faffing around my preferred solution is to attach a small D6 to each unit and use that to register current unit strength, to log losses caused by firing and melee, and so on. When the unit takes a hit, you flip the die accordingly. When you move the unit, you move the die with it. This approach is simple, it’s cheap, and it works a treat. And – most importantly – it enables me to continue using my favourite old armies without having to rebase or expand them in any way.

Doubtless it’s not the most elegant solution, and – like the use of a hex-based battlefield – it certainly won’t appeal to every wargamer. Personally though I don’t find it too obtrusive – it does the job with the minimum of fuss. And, of course, it avoids complexity. Götz von Berlichingen would almost certainly approve!


Bases with Dice

Using dice to show unit strength.



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