Typical Army Behaviours

Jim Zylka: Enemy Behaviour In Action

The April-June 2009 issue of Lone Warrior featured a fascinating article by Jim Zylka called Enemy Behaviour In Action: Renaissance Swiss. As Jim puts it:

“One of the very first solo systems I developed many years ago and still use today is Army Behaviour. What that is can best be described as how your solo enemy’s…forces will act on the battlefield. It is not a list of orders on what to do or where to go but how these actions will be conducted.”

Jim proceeded to outline six typical deployments for the Renaissance Swiss, and then set out guidelines as to how they would conduct the battle – for example how their pike columns would advance and what role their limited artillery and cavalry would have. Jim also included notes about Mindset and Unsure Action with an associated table of actions based on a D6 roll.

If you haven’t come across Jim’s article already I’d strongly suggest that you acquire a back issue of the relevant Lone Warrior. The kernel of his approach is to model the typical behaviour of an historical army based on meticulous research, with some chance factors built in that can be triggered by specific conditions on the battlefield, but which will still fall firmly within the range of authentic options that the army would have had at its disposal.

Jim’s article was quite simply one of the most thought-provoking pieces on solo wargaming that I’ve ever read. It suggested a very fruitful approach to a perennial problem for the solo wargamer – how do you prevent your “automated” opponent from doing things that are either (a) incredibly dumb, or (b) incredibly ahistorical/atypical. I’ve recently started looking at my collection of armies – mainly DBA and HoTT armies – to think about defining “typical army behaviours” for them. And one of the things that struck me immediately is that it is, of course, perfectly possible to do for fantasy armies something similar to what Jim did for the Renaissance Swiss.

My Dwarves are a case in point. Thinking about how they’ll generally approach a battle means looking both at the source material for the army and at the actual make-up of the forces on the tabletop. And it provides a quick thumbnail sketch of how Jim’s approach might be applied to a very different kind of army from his Swiss example. My HoTT Dwarves consist of the following elements: 8 Blades (including the General), 2 Shooters, and 1 Behemoth (a stand of friendly giants). They’re based on the standard image of fantasy Dwarves as primarily a heavy infantry force. On this basis I found it fairly straightforward to devise a simple TAB (Typical Army Behaviour) for them:

Dwarves: Typical Army Behaviour

Blades will form up wherever possible in single line as the main battle formation, with the General towards the centre (either in the front rank or to the rear). A single Blade unit may be detached to protect the Stronghold, where relevant.

Blades may fight in bad going but will avoid doing so against Warbands (who quick-kill Blades in HoTT).

Shooters will generally be placed on the flanks, often to cover or advance through bad going. If facing an enemy with significant mounted units, the Shooters may instead mingle with the Blades.

The Behemoth will be placed either in the centre of the Blade line near the General, or towards a flank – where its own flank can be covered by a Shooter unit.

Dwarves favour a steady, coordinated advance. They will tend to focus on maintaining the cohesion of their main battle line until they have succeeded in breaking the enemy formation by sheer muscle and persistence. If their line is fractured they will hold position and regroup rather than plow on regardless.

Dwarven Generals may be cautious or steady, but will very rarely be impetuous. They will favour open battlefields with a minimum of bad going, unless facing a primarily mounted opponent. They may choose to place impassable terrain to maximise the effectiveness of their heavy troops and minimise the risk of being outflanked.


This TAB has resulted in a couple of close-fought games. Where different options have been listed, I’ve assigned a probability to each and diced accordingly. The Dwarves have given a good account of themselves, and when I’ve needed to think about what the Dwarven general is likely to do next I’ve had a clear set of guidelines to base my probability calculations on.

Of course in some ways this is a rather tongue-in-cheek application of Jim’s approach. But I think it shows just how flexible the army behaviour model can be, involving as it does both firm guidelines and carefully boundaried chance elements. In time, I hope to develop a detailed TAB for all of my armies – with rather more research and detail going into the historical armies than was the case with my Dwarves! Indeed, it would be possible to develop a very elaborate TAB for an army based not only on their historical performance and capabilities, but also on the type of opponent they face and the sort of terrain they will fight over. Combined with other mechanisms, I think that the army behaviour model is a very useful tool for the solo wargamer.

Ten Things Bob Likes About Solo Wargaming

Thanks to the inimitable Bob Seur D’Armadilleaux (and to Saga Online e-zine) for another thought-provoking guest post.

Really Accommodating
My Solo Wargames buddy likes the same periods that I like — he never gripes or wants to do some other obscure period (one that I have NO interest in). What’s more, he even likes the same rules I use (right down to all the “house-rules” that I’ve concocted, over the years, including the one about the advantage for left-handed axe-men). When I goof-up and put one of my key units in danger, why, my Solo opponent is more than accommodating and lets me take back the obvious blunder with nary a “Tsk tsk, my good chap!” (And he never reminds me about it, later, either!)

No matter what units I put on the table (even those beautifully painted antiques with the skinny fragile prototypically-sized pikes) my Solo Wargaming buddy never manhandles them, or bends them over unmercifully. He’s as careful of my figures as I am! Nice to see that.

All the Time in the World
My Solo buddy doesn’t care how long I take to move — 5 minutes, or 5 hours over an interesting puzzle, or maybe 5 days, while I go back to paint up a better representation of some stand of the troops I am currently maneuvering. If I want to research a particular rule, he just sits there, contemplating the ceiling, as if he has all the time in the world. If I complain that the rules “as written” don’t reflect MY idea of reality, why, it’s all the same to him — he agreeably lets me down-tools while I go and try to find (rare) examples from history that support my contentions. He even lets me change the rules as I see fit, and then is quite ready to let the chips fall where they may, as part of our Solo game. (He’s a prince, that Solo buddy).

(Umn … he’s even starting to LOOK a bit like me, although he’s a bit more reticent and not as handsome).

Eager to Play at 3:00 AM on a Week Night
My opponent is always “on time” and always “there” when I need him. He never gets delayed by family circumstances, or because the dog got sick. He doesn’t care about chores, or helping HIS kids with their homework. He doesn’t complain that he wants to sleep in on Sunday morning.

And the corollary is that he never complains when I don’t feel up to one of our usual sessions, because I want to do something else (like read a good book). And if I propose to “shelve” this particular campaign for a bit, in favor of picking up some OTHER campaign or project, who do you think is “right there” to support the change? Yep, my Solo Wargame buddy.

Play in Your Underwear
My Solo opponent doesn’t care if my little guys are painted to the nth degree, or if they come to play Solo in their Underwear (primed figures on temporary cardboard bases, to see if I like the period, or the rules, or that particular army). Graham adds, “Even using cardboard strips painted in appropriate colors to pad out your hordes until the pocket money and or the painting catches up will not be frowned upon by your opponent” (note 1). My Solo buddy doesn’t snigger when some of my little guys have the “wrong” tabs on their uniform (out by 2 years), nor does he mention the fact that my Spanish Warbands are really imported Gauls (“how tacky”). And if there are a couple of Colonial figures on the back ranks of one of my warbands, why, he turns a blind eye to them, and just plays out the scenario “for the fun of it”.

Come to think of it, my Solo buddy doesn’t care if I’ve shaved, or if I’ve brushed my teeth, either. Nor does he bat an eye when I eat in front of him, and don’t share the cookies. He’s just there for the excitement and the purity of the Game.

Suspension of Disbelief
Why did the warbands always go down to defeat? Why couldn’t they have had a good day, a downhill charge, a favorable wind, and promising omens? Maybe the Romans trod up that dirt path until it was nothing but mud, that day.

My Solo buddy doesn’t care if I tweak the rules a bit, such that they favor the underdogs a bit more than the “official tournament” types might like. My Solo buddy realizes that there is a LOT of fun to be had, by reaching deep into the Official Lists, and pulling out two “also-ran” armies — Off-the-beaten-track third-raters, Frontier Funnies the pair of them, but capable of providing some exciting matches when they play against someone in their own local league.

Meticulously Straight; Deceptively Sly
My opponent never “fudges” his move (to get behind my flank, for example), unless I actively encourage him to do so. None of this prance-forward, take-it-back, prance-the-other-way stuff. He’s a paragon of gentlemanly behavior. At the same time, I use Mythic Game Master Emulator (a neat little $7 download from DriveThruRPG.com) that introduces variability (like move distances) and unpredictability (“Did he get around enough to pull a flank attack?”) Mythic can answer that, statistically.

And occasionally, the sneaky Pete even manages to land a raiding party behind me, so I have to ALWAYS keep some active (realistic) reserves to beat off his nipping at my heels. (The rotten fink!).

Side-bar, Yer Honor
Don’t like the way it’s going? Then leave the Solo Wargames table, and try a couple of different set-ups to prove to yourself that you are using the right tactics, or the right strategy. Try using those Egyptian chariots like swooping biplanes — sort of mobile firing platforms; try using them to crack the opponent’s battle line; try using them as a taxi service to ferry light troops off to the needed area. Do they give you better command-and-control? Which role seems to make the most sense to YOU? There is no right or wrong, just interesting observations. You too can explore the world of reconstructive history.

Graham adds, “Yes it is quite amazing how amenable your solo companion can be when you wander off to explore some new obscure factor like logistics right in the middle of a campaign.  Of course they don’t mind either if you don’t come back for months and are just as happy to pick up exactly where you left off.  Should you be unfortunate enough to lose [and yes it does happen] then of course they don’t stand there gleefully jumping up and down announcing loudly to the world, that they have clobbered you.” Your secret is safe with your Solo Wargaming buddy. Mum’s the word.

Oh, and take as long as you like, young man!

Personal-Size It
Some like small armies (6mm); some like only a few stands (DBA). Some like larger armies (28mm), and some like tons of stands (DBM). Doesn’t matter what other people like, when you play Solo you can do your own thing. If you like DBA but prefer more men on a stand, go for it. If you like DBM, but really don’t want to buy tons of lead, you can spread ‘em out and put only ONE figure on a stand.

Graham adds, “Whatever basing you choose is solely up to you and even the formations on the stands are (of course) down to personal choice.  There is no rigidity of format in Solo play — whatever rules you are using, will do just fine, since no-one except your solo buddy is going to see them.”  Some bases too deep? Or perhaps a touch too wide? No problem! We’ll just “guestimate” where the junctions ought to be!

You can even make up stands for arrangements outside of any rule set. I have a number of “squares” of British Colonials that look magnificent, that have been cobbled together using second-rate figures that I’ve “retired” from front-line Solo duty. They don’t really follow any rule-set, but I use them all the time in my Colonial Solo campaigns.

Insert Yourself In The Middle
Most Wargames rule sets are written as if the player were the General. Nothing says you can’t revise the rules to set yourself up as a middle-management Captain, with some orders flowing downhill, and some reports and requests being sent back UP the chain of command. This is a very interesting change to the top-down know-it-all viewpoint as presented in most rule sets, and gives you a much better feel for how any army really ran.

Graham pipes in, “Absolutely right.  Place yourself at the head of “just” a regiment and you will soon learn that there are a whole different set of frustrations to overcome.  You may well find yourself sat waiting for the command to advance simply because a sister regiment is not ready yet.  You can find yourself receiving orders from your brigadier which get superseded by a staff officer from division.  Whether you follow your original order, seek clarification, or follow the new ones will depend upon the character of the officer.  So that will [should] lead you off into a whole new area of exploration.   You are no longer the omniscient and all-seeing mighty general you are merely a cog in the machine.”

Especially if you insert some variability and unpredictability into the equation. You may send out all the “right” orders, but some may go missing or be delayed. Some orders may no longer be applicable, when some of the troops get held up, diverted, or pinned down. Those extra munitions that you requested? Well, get in line, cause there was a major enemy offensive elsewhere that commandeered all the available supplies, so you may have to do with tokenism for a turn or two. (Course, the General will want progress, regardless of the fact that your men are reduced to throwing stones).

Graham adds, “Oh the wonderful world of ‘Chain of Command’ — the couriers who get lost, the regiments who stray, the Brigadiers who cannot read, the cautious democrat who holds a discussion-group to decide the best course of action, the bold or even rash leader who also ignores orders and just launches his forces straight at the nearest enemy.  Then of course there is the aspect of support which covers supply wagons that breakdown or get commandeered, and support regiments that never turn up.  Then you find yourself extricating your troops from the embarrassing situation of being surrounded on three sides because your friends did not turn up for the party.  These and of course many other problems are yours to taste and enjoy when you enter the arena of chain of command with characteristics applied to officers at all levels.”

Digging and Transcribing
Some of the best ideas that I’ve come across for Solo Wargaming required a bit of digging around on OTHER forums (like an ACW re-enactment group, that taught me a lot about horses, uniform durability, and the intricacies of hauling around a canon and casement). I would NEVER have gone looking for this, except for some Solo Wargaming needs — I was actually researching speeds, daily travel allowances, and equipment maintenance for 4-wheel war chariots from 2500 BC, and that was the closest I could find for “real world” experience. That’s the Digging part

Some of the best ideas that I’ve found on “how to play Solo” have been in completely different kinds of wargames. An after-action report by a sci-fi gamer put me on to using Mythic for ancient wargames; it needed a bit of adapting or transcribing, but it turned into a really potent set of tools, that works out brilliantly with most face-to-face wargames rule-sets. All you have to do is keep an open mind, and be prepared to transcribe it into YOUR period. Similarly, I tend to read a LOT of after-action reports in magazines such as Lone Warrior, with the intent of finding other ideas (from Chris Hahn’s Lace Wars campaigns, as an example) and then transcribing the ideas so they work in ancient wargames.

The point is, that Solo Wargaming makes you keep an open mind, and also makes you focus your efforts on finding that nugget of info that you can pat onto your OWN efforts, to improve the blend. Graham adds,
“An open mind is essential because you never know where the golden nuggets are hidden.   Anything and everything you read that is outside your favorite period, still has the potential to contain the nugget of info which you can then adapt to suit YOUR Wargaming needs.  It is one of the freedoms of Solo play that you are not constrained by other people’s preconceptions (rules, or battlefield size and make-up) — you can explore a myriad of different options in search of the most comfortable answers to your questions.”

Two Soloists are Better Than One
And if you are really lucky, you will find another long-suffering stalwart soul who is pursuing his own Solo interests, but is also prepared to swap “universal” ideas, and that doubles the collection and analysis efforts in terms of coming up with productive Solo Wargaming approaches and techniques. A Solo buddy — some one who is prepared to dissect your ideas, give you some constructive criticism, and maybe add a few ideas of their own — is a wonderful find, and worth all the efforts put out in cultivating his company.

It’s a strange thing but the Solo Wargamers Association was created to enable Soloists to converse with each other without ever meeting.  Even the fathers of the hobby had a few friends with whom they conversed because from a few short conversations you can gain enough insight and momentum to last you years.  You can even find yourself pursuing new and unusual directions.  At the same time of course you realize that you are not the only madman in the asylum which is something of a comforting thought.

The strange corollary of having a Solo buddy, is that they tend to encourage you to explore more interesting challenges, and into trying to codify new and unusual Solo variations. Something about the hybrid vigor means that YOUR novel solutions (to problems that come up during Solo campaigning) and YOUR stories (after action reports) seem to take on some resulting exotic or extra flavor — almost as if the very process of incorporating new ideas gives a fresh look to what might otherwise be dated rules and regurgitated “old” simulations.  So much of Solo Campaigning is keeping the drive alive, that anything that adds a new flavor is a truly wonderful thing.

So there you have it — Ten things I like about Solo Wargaming, plus a “spare”, just in case one of the ideas doesn’t resonate.

Seur D’Armadilleaux

Note 1: Comments from my Internet-Solo-buddy, Graham Empson (with thanks)

Lone Warrior – Guest Review

Thanks to Bob (a.k.a. Seur D’Armadilleaux) for this excellent review of the latest issue:

There are 6 meaty articles in the latest 50 pages (no ads) from the Solo Wargamer’s Association magazine, and as usual, they are a feast for any serious long-term Solo wargamer, pretty much regardless of the period or the rules you use. Which is to say, a lot of the good ideas in this issue can be adapted for other periods of play, and the suggestions work with almost any set of rules.

First up is AWI, with Rich Barbuto’s presentation of Cowpens, in 28mm. This has a concise history of the “real” battle, goes through the details of how we scale-down the battle (both the battlefield and the numbers of troops, with an order of battle) to more manageable size, and a review of the rules that he used (Our Moccasins Trickled Blood). Rich explains how he modified the rules using “gaps” in the Continental line (the element of Unpredictability and Uncertainty). The re-fight of the battle has a couple of maps, and an analysis of what went right, what went wrong. All in all, this is a very instructive writeup.

Next up is Marvin Scott’s “Death on the Greasy Grass” (which is the Indian name for Little Big Horn). He has a really good historical synopsis, with the map of the environs leading toward the final battlefield, showing the paths of the 3 forces involved on that fateful day. Marvin then explores the use a deck of cards to “automate” on side of the fray, and points out that we really don’t have a good handle on what the Indian forces historically did that day. The article stops at this point, which leaves me to hope that there is more to come next issue. This sort of pre-battle map-game is used by a lot of long-term Solo enthusiasts, and it’s interesting to see how Marvin applies his ideas to the Plains War period.

ACW is a perennial favorite of Solo Wargamers, and George Arnold takes us to Solo Wargaming the Battle of Prairie Grove. George goes through some thinking behind card-driven games (like Piquet or Command and Colors — although the modifications that George explores can work with any ACW rule set), and explores his use of an Activation Card Deck, which determines which troops actually make it onto the battlefield we have in mind. George also has some die modifiers to cover arrival on the board, and ammunition supply, which is a nice touch. Three games were played to test out the optional rules, and you get all the gory details, including how using different dice (D20 instead of D6) can skew the odds. Nice stuff.

Fourth in the presentations, is Steve Turner’s exposition on How to create YOUR  World. This is a nice compendium of some of the tools that Steve uses, to breathe near-cinematic life into his campaigns. He goes over programs like “Berthier” (which takes a lot of tedium and pain out of the book-keeping part of Solo Campaigning), and shows some of the benefits of Campaign Cartographer (with an example of a vellum-drawn map that looks like it’s come out of an early museum collection). Steve talks about how he likes to play soundtracks when he is gaming — you better run, when you hear the Ride of the Valkyries, cause nothing good comes hard on their coat-tales! Steve develops dynasty lists, and army Orders of Battles that are so “real” they make you wonder if you slept through that part of the history class in high school, and he takes you through some of his behind-the-scenes work. Then he goes through how he uses a Word Processor program to develop integrated After Action Reports, complete with graphics, and even some “newspapers” that support the period. Marvelous stuff. (I still think I must have slept through that class in high school, cause the results are so “believable” that they MUST have really happened).

When is a Wargame more of a Sidebar? When you want to have more detail (on a siege, in this case, using Kevin White’s “Simple Siege Rules). STOP! (I can see your eyes cloud over, cause you really don’t feel like devoting a year and a half into building the models, the armies, and defending your use of the living room for that period! “Out, wife, while I mold the parapets on the North Wall!) And that’s what Kevin White SAVES you from, with his excellent exposition of a card-based Sidebar game, on laying siege to a number of cities in the enemy kingdom. See, one of the great joys of Solo Campaigning (and solo Wargaming in general), is the ability to multi-task — carrying on several tasks at more or less the same time, that relate to the battle-at-hand. Whether these other threads are battles (like skirmishes or scouting games), or exploring, or sieges, they ALL add to the flavor of the business-at-hand. In a matter of 4 short pages Kevin lays out all you need in order to run a card-game version of siege warfare, which can be played out “off-table”, and spliced into your Wargames Campaign (almost regardless of period) in a number of ways. A great addition to any Solo Wargamer’s tool-box.

The last article in this issue is a nice ramble through the wargamer’s journal that Chris Hahn put together for a couple of months in 2010, entitled “At War With Myself”. Keeping a journal (like a wargamer’s version of a diary) is a great way to look back and see what kept you busy, and where you put your talents to work. (In my case, I have too many scatterbrain red-herrings that always seem to keep me entertained, but don’t leave any time or energy to paint up more little guys, or indulge in prosecuting the next phase of whatever wargames campaigns I have on the go). So it’s nice to “peer over the shoulder” of someone who manages to get a LOT done, and see how Chris spends his free time. This makes a nice break to the usual articles that are all rules and maps, because it shows the personal observations of an experienced campaigner.

And for dessert, we have 4 pages of musings from various regular contributors as to the future format that should be pursued by Lone Warrior — lots of people would LIKE to see a web presence, but there are some concerns that the costs are hard to cover. In the meantime, Lone Warrior continues to deliver first rate articles on ONLY Solo-related topics, 4 times per year, for the bargain rate of $25 (North America, in US funds), and only $40 for the rest of the universe (Afghanistan to Timpeus Prime — and rocket fuel on Timpeus has gone up a LOT, the last few Parsecs).

You too can join the adventure, by mailing US funds (or International Money Order) to Solo Wargamers Association, 1707 Ridge Road, Leavenworth, KS 66048, or PayPal to lonewarrior@…. Don’t forget to include a note on PayPal with your mailing address, and what you are ordering. Back-issues are still a bargain at $5 (North America) or $8 anywhere else in the universe, wherever the United Federation Intergalactic Postal Service operates (Peace be upon them).

(Sorry we no longer accept Romulan Bhatt’s, as their devaluation due to the nearby Intergalactic storm has really destabilized their inherent-Latvium value).

Disclaimer: Plaudits, kudos and subscriptions should be forwarded to Solo Wargamers Association & Lone Warrior. Complaints that you need Lone Warrior for free, and that the poor scribe of this humble piece is taking too many liberties, should be forwarded in loving detail to Seur.Darmadilleaux@… (United Federation of Planets).

À Bas Les Rosbifs Part Deux

This scenario/battle report follows on from the previous one, a couple of posts down. As before, I command the French and the decisions of the English commander are determined by a “percentage probability” dice throw. This works by looking at the various options available and weighting them as to how a decent general would choose to act, then dicing for the actual decision; in this game, the actions of each separate “battle” of the English line are diced for.

Both sides have now reformed their lines, giving the following layout:

Turn One: I move the Gendarmes on my right to outflank the English on the hill, and advance my Pike & Shot lines in the centre towards the enemy. The English general, aware that he needs to protect his Levies, advances his Landsknechts (who have some surviving Bill & Bow units at the end of their line) towards my oncoming infantry; he makes some minor adjustments to the dispositions of the troops protecting his camp to counter the move by my Gendarmes; and he throws the mixed units on his right flank towards my left (which is a little weaker); the Levies hold their position.

Turn Two: My left flank holds its position while I continue to advance in the centre, and my Gendarmes continue their manoeuvre on my far right. The English commander gets an attack of the jitters – or perhaps his troops do – all along the line, and their advance judders to a halt!

Turns Three and Four: The main action is in the centre of the battlefield, where the Landsknechts and the handful of remaining English take heavy losses against my Pike & Shot. On my left flank the two sides face each other but don’t advance into combat; on my right, the demonstration by my Gendarmes succeeds in immobilising the troops guarding the English camp.

Turn Five: The English centre continues to fragment. In response the English commander finally throws his Levies into the battle – they join the rest of his right flank in an advance on my left.

Turn Six: My centre grinds to a halt and provides the Landsknechts with a chance to regroup their depleted forces. Checked for morale, a number of the English Levies flee, but the remainder advance along with the English right against my left flank; in addition, some Levies armed with arquebuses succeed in shooting down one of my Gendarme units!

Turns Seven and Eight: The remnants of the Landsknechts in the centre – around half their original strength – succeed in regrouping and halting my advance. The Levies take heavy casualties but have held up my Pike & Shot column on my left flank, while on my far left the English are having by far the better of the combats. On my right, the Gendarmes are almost within charge distance of the English camp.

Turns Nine to Eleven: A single unit of German Shot hold off my Gendarmes’ attack on the camp, while some of my Pikes detach themselves from the centre to attack the camp from the other side. In the centre the Landknechts continue to hold their ground, while the English are still having the better of the fighting on my left and centre left. It’s turning into an extremely bloody – and rather indecisive – battle!

Turns Twelve to Fourteen: My Pikes and Gendarmes finally succeed in taking the English camp, but across the rest of the battlefield my battered troops are in retreat! The English resolve – combined with some lucky dice throws – has served to inflict such heavy losses on my troops that I have no option but to sound the retreat. Still, at least we’ve got some booty to carry back to our ships…before we head back to France!

Keeping Abreast Of The Russian Revolution

I suppose we’ve all endured those awkward moments when an opponent points out that the epaulets on your guard battalion are painted the wrong shade of blue.

Well, last night I experienced an interesting variation on the theme. I’d just set up my 15mm Russian Civil War HoTT army (Reds of course!) when my opponent John quipped: “Ah, you’re fielding mixed sex units then are you?”

I was bemused by his comment, so he elaborated: “Well, half of them appear to have breasts…”

Dear Reader, I was shocked. I know that my eyesight is becoming a little less acute with the passing years, and that sometimes purchasing ready painted troops on eBay can be a recipe for disaster. But it was a bit galling to realise that I’d mixed up the regular infantry with some doughty members of the Women’s Shock Battalion! Ah well. I can see that I’m going to have to spend an hour or so with a magnifying glass and my rebasing kit. Although I’m sure some of those women have moustaches…

A Different Arthur…

I haven’t exactly been an avid reader of historical novels. Apart from the odd dip into sci-fi (mainly the outer fringes – writers like Philip K. Dick) I’m not a big fan of “genre” fiction. I wasn’t particularly inspired by the “Sharpe” TV series either, so the works of Bernard Cornwell have pretty much passed me by. However, last year a wargaming friend suggested that I might like the Warlord Chronicles trilogy. I was sceptical, but I went out and bought a copy of the first instalment – The Winter King. I’ve been hooked ever since, and I’m currently half-way through the final book (so if you comment on this article don’t give the game away by telling me how it ends!!!).

Cornwell presents a unique take on the Arthur legend and on the Britain of that period. A gritty and detailed realism is interwoven with many of the characters from the mythos. He generally – though with some exceptions – presents them in their Celtic rather than French incarnations, sticking mostly to Welsh names. All the favourites are there – Merlin, Nimue, Guinevere, Mordred, and of course Arthur himself. The world they inhabit is riven by constant civil war, and the ever present threat of Saxon victory.

The story centres around the life and struggles of Arthur’s friend and warrior, Derfel Cadarn. Elements of the story we’ve all come to know from films and books are skilfully blended with a gripping account of the struggle for Britain. War, politics, and the minutiae of everyday life are described in convincing detail. Cornwell has described this trilogy as his favourite creation, and the writing is of a high standard throughout. Dark Age Britain fairly springs off the pages.

The trilogy is a veritable treasure trove for the wargamer, and would provide marvellous material for one or more campaigns. There is a wealth of material for both the historical gamer and for the adherent of rulesets like HoTT, which allow for semi-historical armies where Heroes fight alongside the Shieldwall. I would highly recommend these books to anyone who hasn’t already discovered them.