Jay's Wargaming Blog

December 6, 2017

Oh Those Persians!

Filed under: Computer Gaming,Reviews — Jay @ 2:58 pm



Field of Glory II has been running almost constantly on my computer since its release a few months ago. It’s an excellent implementation of tabletop ancients wargaming, combining nice graphics with a tough AI, sandbox skirmish mode, and a built-in campaign system.

The base module released with the original game – Rise Of Rome – covered the period from 280 BC to 25 BC, featuring 75 army lists spread across 48 nations.

Now the first of what I expect will be many expansions has arrived.

Immortal Fire covers the armies of the Persian Empire, the Greek city states, Alexander the Great, the Diadochi, and a few neat extras like the Lydians, the Latins and the Etruscans. Not bad for the princely sum of just £11.99!

The Achaemenid Persians are my favourites so far. They come in five different period flavours, reflecting the changes in their army composition as their empire expanded and then eventually contracted in the face of Macedonian aggression. The Persian Immortals and Sparabara – both new units in the game – give the player the opportunity to pit ‘medium’ infantry armed with bow, spear and shield against the redoubtable Greeks and Macedonians. They’re a lot of fun to use. Here they are defending a hill against a determined assault by Greek hoplites:


Persians03 Infantry


The Iranian Armoured Cavalry provides the Persians with another powerful option, giving them more mobility than the Greeks can muster. These bow-armed heavy cavalry, supported by light horse archers, can run the Greeks ragged while the Immortals and the Sparabara provide a solid infantry line for them to fall back on as needed. Here my Iranians surround a couple of isolated hoplite units, and prepare to pick them off:


Persians02 Cavalry


In addition to the new nations and armies, Immortal Fire also adds some ready-made campaigns to the existing roster.  There are four historical campaigns: Xenophon, Philip of Macedon, Seleukos I Nikator, and Seven Hills of Rome. Xenophon and Seven Hills of Rome (which covers the rise of the young Roman Republic) are particularly intriguing. So too is the additional ‘What If’ campaign that’s included in the package – this allows us to explore what might have happened if Alexander had not died at the tender age of 32, but had instead gone on to continue his conquests.

Along with the ready-made campaigns, the new army lists can also be used in sandbox mode to create new campaigns on the fly. Doubtless more community-produced campaigns built using these lists will also emerge in due course.

But for now I’m going to stick with my sandbox campaign, pitting my beautiful Persians against the brutish Greek barbarians.

Thanks to Richard Bodley Scott and his team for providing us with another excellent, immersive computer game!


November 15, 2017

Dodge City Delights

Filed under: General,Reviews — 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!


November 13, 2017

Elephants in the FoG

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


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.


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).


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…




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.

January 29, 2015

A Guide To Solo Campaigning

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 4:38 pm

Book Review: The Solo Wargaming Guide by William Silvester. Published by Precis Intermedia, 2013.


It’s always nice to find a new addition to the small library of books designed specifically for the solo wargamer. This is even more the case when the book is aimed squarely at an aspect of solo wargaming that has not, to date, received much coverage. In fact, outside of the pages of Lone Warrior magazine and the odd website, solo campaigning has barely been touched on at all prior to the publication of this book.

Weighing in at around one hundred and twenty pages, and retailing at a price of £10 or thereabouts, this is a ‘cheap and cheerful’ publication whose main appeal definitely lies in the ideas between its covers rather than in eye candy or fancy production values. That’s no bad thing though, as it should be affordable even for those gamers operating on a tight budget (and who isn’t in these days of government-enforced austerity?).

Mr Silvester has collected a wealth of ideas together here. Unlike some books that wrap a handful of useful notions for the soloist in a whole lot of verbiage about wargaming in general, this guide gets right down to the nitty-gritty of solo gaming and solo campaigning – its advantages, its motivations, its possibilities and (best of all) a straightforward and comprehensive set of mechanisms designed to get you started.

In fact the first forty pages or so contain the ‘meat’ of the book so far as solo campaigning mechanisms go. Short sections cover Mobilization, Time and Transposition, Weather, Logistics and Attrition, Morale, Alliances, Revolts, Sieges and Mutinies. These form the core of the text, and include a simple but effective way to provide for alternative campaign strategies for both the attacker and the defender. Mr Silvester suggests ways to build unpredictability into each solo campaign, both for the solo player and for the counter-strategies of his/her ‘automated’ opponent. Each side may have a number of possible approaches to the coming conflict, and each side is subject to the changing fortunes of war.

I won’t give the game away by going into detail here about what we might call the ‘core mechanism’ for determining the course of each campaign at the strategic level. In truth it’s actually pretty straightforward, but the beauty of it is that (a) it works, and (b) it can be developed in order to add further layers of complexity should you wish to do so. As the author says, rather than set out to write a ‘solo wargamers bible’, he has focused instead on providing ‘guidelines that can be bent or twisted, even broken and reformed, to suit a wargamer’s needs’. Where other books on wargame campaigning occasionally suffer from a rather forbidding complexity, the author here has set out a neat and effective approach which contains everything the gamer needs in order to get started. He gives us a foundation that can be built on, expanded and elaborated to your heart’s content – or used ‘as is’.

Later chapters expand on the core ideas, and touch on everything from naval campaigning and air warfare through to ideas for resolving the table-top battles when the opposing forces finally come into contact. The author goes to some lengths to explain how to transition from map to battlefield, and this is both unusual and immensely helpful – it’s an area that’s often been skipped over by other writers.

Overall, this is a good little primer that covers everything you need to know to get started in solo campaigning. While it might usefully be read in conjunction with older books like Tony Bath’s Setting Up A Wargames Campaign, it works well as a stand-alone introduction to this much neglected subject. Mr Silvester’s book is an extremely useful addition to the solo wargamer’s bookshelf.

October 24, 2014

Pike & Shot – Game Review

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 2:41 pm

Pike & Shot

Pike & Shot is the latest title to be marketed by Slitherine Games. After my underwhelming experience with Slitherine’s earlier offering Field of Glory – nice game, lousy AI – I was wary about parting with more of my hard-earned cash. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, from a solo gaming point of view the trajectory of computer games in recent years has been distinctly underwhelming, unless you’re satisfied with games set in the American Civil War or WWII (neither of which are personal favourites). Early classics like Age of Rifles seemed to herald a golden age, but the reality didn’t match the potential. Unless you’re a fan of ‘real time’ wargames, the genre has appeared to be moving backwards rather than forwards. So it was with some skepticism that I posted a few questions in Slitherine’s Pike & Shot forum prior to the game’s release. The answers I received  left me feeling intrigued, and I decided the game was worth a punt…

Let’s cut to the chase. I think the game is a blast, and has the potential to become a real classic. Both Field of Glory and Pike & Shot are based around rules authored by Richard Bodley Scott, whose CV includes a number of classic tabletop rulesets. But the difference with Pike & Shot is that RBS has done the bulk of the development himself this time around, using the Battle Academy architecture as its basis. Fancy graphics have been eschewed in favour of reflecting the way the period was depicted by contemporary artists, and – crucially – the AI has been developed to the point where it provides the human player with a real challenge. The developers have taken the trouble to faithfully model many of the specifics of the period, for example the alarming tendency that cavalry had to pursue fleeing enemies right off the field of battle, and the ways that the various pike and shot formations morphed from war to war and from nation to nation.

Pike & Shot is a turn-based, battlefield-level simulation of the period, and includes scenarios from the Italian Wars, the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War. There are a number of different difficulty settings, and the usual tranche of adjustable on-screen options. Crucially there is also a ‘Skirmish’ facility, which enables the player to generate endlessly varied random scenarios from all three of these wars; within this you can either trust the computer to select your forces for you, or you can select your army yourself. Size of battle and terrain can be customised, as can the type of battle – Attack, Defence, Open Battle, Reinforcement and Flank Marches. The type of battle selected will influence the AI’s behaviour.

Even better, there is a built-in editor, and this is likely to ensure a steady flow of new scenarios, as well as providing enthusiasts of the period with the chance to build their own battles. I suspect this will be taking up a fair bit of my time once I’ve got into it… It’s even possible to edit the technical parameters for various aspects of the game, and online discussion has already taken place where people are looking into doing this, either to personalise the feel of the game in line with their own interpretations of history, or in order to adapt it – alongside customised graphics – to represent different wars altogether.

The other positive feature has been the close involvement that RBS has had with the online discussions, and this is ongoing. It’s rare for a game designer to have this kind of engagement with his customer base, and he’s clearly open to suggestions about future tweaks and developments. Indeed, the question of “where next” with this very adaptable game engine is one of the big questions, with suggestions ranging from the Samurai Era to the Lace Wars, or perhaps a move back into the medieval or ancient periods. Field of Glory could certainly do with a challenging replacement, and from what I’ve seen so far RBS and his team have developed the skills and the toolsets to address this gap.

In the end, it’s the solo potential and the modability of a computer game that guarantee its commercial and popular success, as the history of games like Civilization and the Sim series has shown. While Pike &Shot is unlikely to ever have that size of audience, the potential for a wargame of this calibre, and for further releases covering different eras, is actually pretty big. If RBS and his team focus on that, they will have a long term winner on their hands.

Now, enough of this blogging nonsense – I have to get back to the battle of Cheriton!

Useful Stuff About The Game

Wars covered: Italian Wars, English Civil War, Thirty Years War.

Battles included: Seminara, Fornovo, Ravenna, Novara, Marignano, Bicocca, Pavia, Ceresole, St Quentin, Gravelines (Italian Wars), Wimpfen, Lutter, 1st Breitenfeld, Lutzen, Nordlingen, Wittstock, 2nd Breitenfeld, Rocroi (Thirty Years War), Storming of Bristol, Relief of Nantwich, Cheriton, Marston Moor, Lostwithiel, 2nd Newbury, Naseby (English Civil War).

Video of game demo/walkthrough: http://www.twitch.tv/surtur01/c/5223595

Screen shots: Go to http://www.slitherine.com/games/pike_shot_pc  and page down to the end. Or just Google!

Last but not least, you can get the game here: http://www.slitherine.com/games/pike_shot_pc


I know this whole post sounds unlike my usual curmudgeonly self, particularly when it comes to discussing computer games. But frankly, dear reader, I can’t help myself. Although it’s early days, I’m currently chuffed as could be to have found a PC game that addresses an era I love, and does it in a way that doesn’t require you to check your brain at the door. I can honestly say that I have no connection with Slitherine, or indeed with Richard Bodley Scott – on the one occasion we’ve met over the tabletop (at the annual Berkeley Hordes convention), he handed my arse to me on a plate…


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