Jay's Wargaming Blog

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!

 

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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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January 10, 2018

Hex Enduction Hour…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 2:39 pm

My Hexon Terrain

 

Meanwhile, back on the table top, I took delivery last week of a box of Hexon modular terrain from Kallistra.

The setup pictured above uses about two thirds of the tilesets from their basic starter box set. Currently we’re limited to using a medium size dining table for games. Plans are afoot for building an extension, which will allow us to install a nice big wargames table when it’s complete. Until then, small is beautiful…

The plan is to use this for working on my “beginner” level hex-based wargames rules, which I’ve been mulling over for a while now. I’ve opted for a hex tabletop because my gut feeling is that it’s easier for people new to wargaming to grasp rules wherein movement, firing, combat, facing etc. are addressed without the need for complicated measurements, wheeling and turning, and so on.

I’ve always been impressed by the rules used in Bill Banks’ 3W Ancients hex-and-counter game. I found it fiddly to use in practice – small hex sheets and even smaller punched counters – but the rules themselves were fun and seemed to give realistic results. My own rules will likely take a lot from the Bill Banks rule set.

Setting up the Hexon layout wasn’t too much of a chore, and I’ve already ordered a few additional pieces.

As you can see from the photo, I haven’t flocked the hexes yet, and the scenery is bog standard rather than specific to a hex tabletop. I’ll probably have a go at adapting and/or making suitable scenery, but if that proves to be less than successful I’ll no doubt end up buying even more bespoke stuff from Kallistra. Their products are not the cheapest, but I feel they’re worth the price.

When I’ve finally arrived at a workable rule set I’ll upload it to the blog to see what people think.

Incidentally – in case you didn’t know – Hex Enduction Hour was the fourth album released by The Fall back in 1982…

 

Hex

December 21, 2017

China My China

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 12:13 am

Chinese Zhou Dynasty Chariot

In the haze of the morning, China sits on eternity… 

Christmas really has come early this year…

When I powered up Field of Glory II this morning and saw the ‘new user content’ icon flashing, I assumed someone had added a custom battle or a small campaign. Instead I found a major add-on put together by Jomni, the guy responsible for the Sengoku Jidai expansion to Pike & Shot.

This time Jomni has added the Chinese theatre of war to the primarily Western and Near Eastern areas covered by FoG II and its first official expansion.

And what a splendid job he’s made of it. Options include five variants of the Chinese, covering the period from 1046 BC to 23 AD. Their opponents include a number of ‘barbarian’ tribes  – the Di, Donghu, Beidi, Qiang and Xirong.

The Chinese can also, as part of the Silk Road theme, go up against armies already covered in the main FoG II game and its Immortal Fire expansion – including the Indians, the Macedonians, the Graeco-Bactrians, the Skythians/Saka, and others.

Jomni has modded the graphics to produce some fine new troops. Here my Chinese take the field to face the Qiang, in a small/medium sized ‘sandbox’ battle from the later Zhou period:

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I’ve stacked my left flank with chariots and cavalry to overwhelm the enemy and envelop his right and centre, while hoping to hold him off with my infantry elsewhere.

Here my chariots and horse prepare to engage the foe:

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Meanwhile, over on my right, raw recruits are tasked with holding the line for as long as possible against the approaching barbarians:

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My simple plan works, but the outcome hangs in the balance for a while, even though I’m fighting this battle at a pretty low difficulty level.

It’s clearly going to take time for me to learn exactly how to handle these Chinese troops!

Here, my left flank mounted – cavalry and chariots – see off the enemy:

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They’re only just in time to save the day, as my right flank has all but collapsed and my centre is starting to buckle as my infantry begin to break and run:

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All in all it’s a very satisfying first game. The new armies look good, and add a whole new theatre of war to the existing options.

And that’s just the skirmish/sandbox side of Jomni’s mod.

In addition, he’s added a full-fledged ‘Silk Road’ campaign:

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This enables you to pit any of the nations mentioned above against any other, in a series of conflicts spanning nearly a thousand years.

Not bad for a free add-on to an already excellent game!

I’ve got a pretty shrewd idea of how I’ll be spending much of the holiday period…

 

December 7, 2017

A Cunning Plan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 3:56 pm
Blackadder

“Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words ‘I have a cunning plan’ marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?”

 

How do you introduce a newbie to the wargaming hobby?

Or, more to the point, how do you get them started in a way that won’t put them off for life?

This question came up for me recently, as I settled into married life with a partner who – coming from a more traditional gay milieu/sensibility – had no particular interest in the world of military history or wargaming. On the other other hand, we had already spent many hours playing cards and the occasional (non-military) board game together, so I thought that there might be a glimmer of hope after all on the wargaming front. Maybe I could get him involved in this wonderful hobby of ours…

But how to go about it?

After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to see how he’d fare with Richard Borg’s game Battle Cry, which I reviewed on here a few years ago (you can find the review by clicking here).

Why Battle Cry? Well, one of the things I believe newbies find very difficult to grasp – I know I did back in the day – is the whole business of measured movement, turning, facing and formation change as dealt with in the conventional table-top wargame. For people brought up on grid-based games like draughts (checkers) and chess, the complexity of the movement on the table-top can be disconcerting and counter-intuitive.

Battle Cry, on the other hand, uses a simple system of hex-based movement. It doesn’t bother with facing, formation or zones of control. And it only presents the newbie with three troop types to get his or her head around – infantry, cavalry and artillery (plus generals, to add a fourth). The effects of terrain are pretty straightforward, and the liberal use of cards to determine the player’s options each turn ensures that the game is fun and throws up continual surprises.

At the same time, Battle Cry acclimatises the new player to the notion that re-fighting old battles can be fun, and gets you both over that awkward moment when you have to explain that you’re going to be playing with toy soldiers. It’s a sort of wargaming lite, introducing many of the key elements of ‘the real thing’ without frightening off your potential new recruit.

So how did it work out?

Even better than expected. Battle Cry has become a favourite shared pastime, and I’ve just introduced my partner to a new set of rules I’m working on for hex-based ancients/medieval warfare. These new rules use Battle Cry as a starting point, but as they develop and grow the aim is to gradually incorporate a roster of different troop types, zones of control, unit facing, morale etc. etc. I will probably include and build on ideas culled from a number of sources, including Richard Borg’s own ancients games, the old Ancients hex game published by 3W, and other ideas gleaned from the internet and elsewhere.

But I’m planning to introduce these things gradually, step by step. The idea is to start simple, and build on an initial shared knowledge base in such a way that the games remain fun and above all stress free.

I’m hoping to share these stripped-down hex rules on here as they develop.

So there you have it. It’s never too late to gently ease someone into the wonderful world of wargaming. All you need is a cunning plan…!

 

Private Baldrick

December 6, 2017

Publish And Be Damned?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jay @ 5:28 pm

The Scream

This blog post is going to be a bit of a rant…

Nowadays anyone can be a publisher. The inexorable rise of print-on-demand and budget printing outlets, combined with the dominance of internet sales in the retail sector, has broken down the barriers that once made publishing the preserve of a privileged few. Fundamentally this has to be a good thing. As with self-publishing and blogging, the new media give us all a chance to find an audience.

But every silver lining has a cloud. The downside of the publishing revolution is that anyone, regardless of whether or not they have the requisite skill and patience, can throw together a book and put it on the market. We’re probably all familiar with cheap paperbacks whose contents have been word-processed rather than competently laid out, whose typos run into double or triple figures, and whose photos are a muddy blur.

Within a small community like the wargaming world, customers may be unwilling to complain about the quality of the product they receive. Even constructive critical observations can be construed as a personal attack, and the resulting fallout can turn into a vendetta that lasts for years.

Equally, criticism may be seen as an unwarranted breach of the ‘clubby’ atmosphere that pervades much of our hobby. There can be a great reluctance to call out poor practice, even when someone has paid good money for shoddy goods that should never really see the light of day.

Probably the worst example of this sort of product that I’ve ever personally come across is a paperback reprint of a ‘wargaming classic’ that I picked up recently on Amazon. Despite boasting two editors, and despite being billed as an attempt to bring the work of an important wargaming pioneer to a new audience, the poor production values on show made reading the book an ordeal rather than a pleasure.

I have rarely, if ever, seen so many typos crammed into a single slim volume – a particularly egregious oversight when detailed wargaming rules make up a significant part of the text, and accuracy is an essential (if basic) requirement. Apparently  neither editor thought it worth his while to proof-read the final draft prior to publication. Maybe neither editor is conversant with the spell-check and grammar-check functions included in every modern word-processing package, though that frankly beggars belief. A simple one-click solution would have eradicated most of the mistakes. One of the repeated typos is the (original) author’s own name – an unforgiveable error, in my opinion.

This haphazard approach to editing is reflected in the book’s amateurish layout and almost indecipherable photographs. The text appears to have been run through a word-processor and simply squeezed out the other side, with no time being spent on proper page layout or design. There are plenty of photos, but they are so poor as to be of little if any use. Still, at least they help to bulk out this very slim volume – maybe that’s the reason they’ve been included.

If this book was a one-off, perhaps the lack of skill and care would be more understandable. But it is just one of a series of re-prints, put together by someone who clearly cares passionately about the hobby and its history. Which, as far as I’m concerned, makes this slapdash approach to publishing even more of a mystery. Maybe the other books in the series are better produced, but frankly I don’t have any desire to pour good money after bad in order to find out.

The point is pretty simple, really. If you can’t take the time and effort to proof-read the text, if you lack the patience or the skill to lay the book out properly, if you can’t tell a muddy blur from a decent photo – then for heaven’s sake don’t impose on the rest of us by masquerading as a publisher.

Here endeth the rant!

Exploding Brain Clip Art

 

 

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/

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