Jay's Wargaming Blog

January 8, 2018

One Hour Wargames – Part Deux

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 1:47 pm

frontier-wagon-circle

My earlier review of Neil Thomas’s book One Hour Wargames – which praised his scenarios while heavily criticising his stripped-down rules – prompted a spirited defence of those rules by several readers. It’s nice to have generated some discussion, so rather than circle the wagons I thought I’d just flag up these alternative views, as follows…

Paul writes:

The Neil Thomas books are basically what they say they are, namely introductions into the hobby with very simple rules that are easy to learn and will play to a definite conclusion in an evening.

That said, they also provide a good starting point for anyone considering writing their own rules, because in my experience it’s much easier to add your own ideas to a basic set of rules, than start with a complex (and generally expensive) set of rules and strip out what doesn’t suit your ideas for the period.

Steve writes:

Paul has it in one.. for me their main benefit is that they provide a framework for you to hang as many of your own ideas on as you want.. out of the box I would say that they will not satisfy any war-game grognard, but tinkered with and added to (which is part of the fun), they are a delight.

Andy writes:

Thanks for posting this. OHW is the book which has motivated me to play more games in the past two years than in the previous five combined. I agree that scenarios are the strongest part of the book and very good value in themselves : I have adapted some to play on much more complex rulesets.

However the rules should not be dismissed too easily. Yes they are very simple, but Neil does a good job of introducing the logic behind them: eg when explaining how he divides fro age infantry into two broad categories ( warriors and shields all infantry). That said I agree that the ancients section does feel overly ‘broad’. One of the virtues of the rules mechanics is that they do allow for tinkering by the players . I have enjoyed colonial era games (a period not specifically catered for in the rules as written) simply by having 19 C armies fight against dark age warriors (zulus!). All worked well. I recommend trying the solo random event section. They do offer a level of complexity and randomness which is useful even in 2 player OHW games.

Nobby writes:

It makes a little more sense if you read his article Keeping it Simple which was in a Battlegames magazine.
I’ve been using his Machine Age rules for the 1920’s NW Frontier and have been happy with them. I am now looking at 12th century England and think that there are too many knights and not enough levy and archers but he does invite you to make changes.

 

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January 6, 2018

One Hour Wargames

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 5:00 pm

One Hour Wargames

As part of my ongoing fascination with ‘stripped down’ wargame rulesets I recently bought a copy of Neil Thomas’s One Hour Wargames (published by Pen & Sword Military).

I already own a couple of the author’s books – Wargaming: An Introduction, and Ancient and Medieval Wargaming. I like the fact that he’s prepared to think outside the box, and his writing style is easy on the eye, so I was looking forward to reading more of his work.

One Hour Wargames – or OHW as I’ll call it from here on in – is an interesting book that has two quite distinct aspects to it.

Simple Rules

Firstly we have sets of very short rules for each of nine historical periods – Ancient, Dark Age, Medieval, Pike and Shot, Horse and Musket, Rifle and Sabre, American Civil War, Machine Age and Second World War.

Each of these periods is covered by a chapter setting out the rationale for Neil’s approach, and outlining the relevant troop types – plus a chapter elaborating the rules themselves.

The rules in each case are very brief – just two or three pages. And each period features just four defined types of unit. For example, troop types for the Medieval period  are  Knights, Archers, Men at Arms and Levies.

While this approach works tolerably well in theory, it is very limiting in practice. The Medieval period isn’t so bad, but important distinctions are lost when we consider Ancients, to take just one example. For this era the author defines the available troop types as Infantry, Archers, Skirmishers and Cavalry. Consequently key distinctions – for example between the Greek phalanx, the Roman legion and the Celtic warband – find no place in the rules. Chariots, elephants and camels are missing completely. And within the category of Cavalry there is no distinction between, for instance, Numidian light horse, Macedonian Companion Cavalry, and Late Roman cataphracts.

The author could object, with some justification, that he is simply applying a broad brush stroke to each period. More pertinently, he could point out that he explicitly recommends that readers add to these ‘base’ rules and/or write their own.

But that still leaves me feeling dissatisfied, a feeling that is deepened by Neil’s rationalisations for his troop types, which sometimes veer into what I fear are rather misleading statements. For example he suggests that cavalry in the Ancient era “relied upon skirmishing at point-blank range with javelins, and individual duels with swords […] This means that they are about as effective as Archers in hand-to-hand combat…” (page 9).

In a book that’s aimed at least in part at newcomers to the hobby, I can’t help feeling that this sort of mangling of history is unfortunate. It enables Neil to keep things simple, but at a cost.

This attempt to cut everything back to the bone also impacts the rules themselves to some degree. We’ve probably all had the experience of cobbling together a ‘basic’ ruleset, only to find that there is a definite relationship between the brevity of what we’ve written and the number of baffling situations that occur on the tabletop – situations that either aren’t covered at all in the rules, or which are open to wildly different interpretations. Such is the case here.

There are also puzzling elisions, for instance where Neil fails to state whether factors impacting combat results – terrain, flank and rear attacks – should be taken as cumulative or singular.

But perhaps I’m being too pernickety here. After all, OHW is designed as a starter guide to tabletop battles, rather than the finished article. But I must admit that this aspect of the book wasn’t really to my taste, and came as a disappoint given the excellence of Neil’s other books.

[And see Comments section for a more positive take on these ‘basic’ rules – one man’s meat, etc. etc.]

The Scenarios

Fortunately the rules are not the only thing you get in OHW. A big chunk of the book is taken up with thirty very fine scenarios. They’re designed to be used with army lists derived from the first half of the book, but with absolutely minimal tweaking they will serve equally well for use with other rulesets and amended forces. Additionally, they fit any historical period.

Each scenario takes up two pages – one page of text and one page with accompanying diagram, showing the battlefield layout. The text portion includes Situation, Army Sizes, Deployment, Reinforcements, Special Rules, Game Length/Turn Order, Victory Conditions, Inspiration and Further Reading.

This second half of the book is absolutely splendid, and more than worth the cover price. Scenarios encompass every conceivable type of encounter, and are designed to be played out, as per the title of the book, in around an hour. The author’s generous and very full acknowledgement of sources, plus his helpful notes on further reading, mean that these wonderfully inventive short scenarios can be deepened and expanded with just a little extra effort. Neil also encourages the reader to produce his/her own scenarios, and with these cracking examples to hand most enthusiastic wargamers will be inspired to follow his lead.

And Finally…

OHW also includes a brief introduction for newbies, short sections on campaigning and solo wargaming, and a rather more extensive section on resources.

Although the brief period overviews and ultra-short rulesets really don’t float my boat, I have to say that Neil comes through in the second half of the book with a stack of excellent scenarios. These are terrific as they stand, but also serve as an inspiration to the reader.

For me, this book is ‘a game of two halves’ – but in a good way! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you invest in a copy.

*****

For an alternative view of the first half of the book, check out my follow-up post here, and Marco’s video review here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GERS4vGWZZ0

December 23, 2017

Warfare in the Ancient World

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 10:08 am

Warfare in the Ancient World

I’ve just finished reading this concise volume and thought I’d note down a few observations about it.

It’s markedly different from other books I’ve read on ancient warfare in that it takes an instrumental, stripped-down view of the development of warfare in the ancient world. It looks at weapons systems as they were applied on the battlefield and in campaigns, with a focus on developments in combined arms, ‘articulation’ and logistics.

The concept of combined arms is one we’re probably all familiar with, and speaks for itself. Likewise logistics. Articulation though was a relatively new term to me, and denotes the capacity of battlefield units and formations to respond flexibly to different challenges. This is how the  glossary at the end of the book puts it:

“A military term defining the offensive capability of troops. Unarticulated troops usually lacked the drill and discipline to march and fight in close order, and usually fought in static, defensive formations. Well-articulated troops were capable of offensive action in close-order combat.”

The Roman legion, with its system of maniples, is portrayed as the supreme development of the articulated battle formation in the ancient world.

Instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of the period, the book concentrates on key developments. One example of this is the metamorphosis of Greek and Macedonian warfare as a result of contact with the Persian Empire. The Greek phalanx was replaced by the combined arms approach of Philip of Macedon, who added cavalry and light troops to the traditional heavy infantry formations. Following the closely studied experiences of Xenophon, whose Anabasis was read extensively, the Macedonians recognised the importance of proper logistical support, which had previously been neglected in the Greek world.

The book covers an impressive sweep of history, from the Bronze and early Iron Age eras to the later Roman empire. Carey illustrates his points with detailed analyses of key battles, complete with maps. These include Megiddo, Kadesh, Marathon, Plataea, Sphacteria, Leuctra, Granicus River, Issus, Gaugamela, Hydaspes, Raphia, Cannae, Zama, Cynosephalae, Carrhae, Pharsalus and Teutoburg Forest.

The most useful and refreshing aspect of the book for me though isn’t the description of individual battles – many of which have been covered exhaustively elsewhere – but the author’s overview of the way in which each region or nation’s system of warfare developed over time.

For instance, Carey traces the transformation of the Roman military machine, describing its emergence from Etruscan methods of warfare and its subsequent development via the Camillan reforms into the early legion. He looks at the impact of the subsequent wars, and of the Marian and Augustan reforms, ending with an analysis of the decline of legionary warfare with the defeats of Carrhae and the Teutoburg.

It’s when he’s looking at the ‘big picture’ that this author is at his best.

The only criticism I would make of the book is that, for this ageing reader at least, the strategic and battlefield maps are rather on the small side. But this is a minor gripe about what is in general a well-written, rewarding and thought-provoking read. I’m not qualified to judge whether Carey’s conclusions are ones with which other military historians might take issue, but as presented here his arguments are both cogent and forceful.

In short, Warfare in the Ancient World is a worthy addition to the wargamer’s bookshelf.

Warfare in the Ancient World, Brian Todd Carey, publ. Pen & Sword 2005.

 

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:

Screen_00000003

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:

Screen_00000004

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

Screen_00000007

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:

Screen_00000008

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:

Screen_00000010

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:

Screen_00000013

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

 

 

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