Jay's Wargaming Blog

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

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More Free Stuff!

Filed under: Computer Gaming — Jay @ 11:26 am

My favourite computer game, Field of Glory II, has consistently – like its sister games Pike & Shot and Sengoku Jidai – delivered wonderful free content in addition to the base game and ‘official’ expansions.

Latest in the list of freebies is Paul Adaway’s TT Mod. This addresses the tendency of the base game to re-use standard unit graphics – e.g. for Hellenic pikemen – in a number of different armies. Consequently, to expand this example, Alexander’s pikemen would look the same as those used in a Ptolemaic or Pyrrhic army. The result was a certain ‘sameness’ in the look of some of the armies.This wasn’t a huge problem as it was basically a cosmetic issue, but it was certainly one of the few underwhelming aspects of the game as originally published.

Paul has addressed this by replacing the ‘ubiquitous vanilla versions’ (as he puts it) of Pikemen and Cavalry units – among others – to ensure greater diversity and a more accurate reflection of historical differences.

In addition, Paul has created greater diversity in the army lists by splitting them to reflect the detailed granularity of the table top version of the game (hence ‘TT’ or ‘Table Top’ mod). So the Pyrrhic list has been split into a ‘Pyrrhus in Italy’ and a ‘Pyrrhus in Greece’ list; and the Gallic lists have been split into ‘Lowland’ and ‘Hill Tribe’ variants for each period. These are just a couple of examples from what is in actuality a huge list – click here to access the full list.

There are some excellent new unit types in the latest mod as well, such as the Tarantine Light Cavalry and the various new flavours of Phalanx and Hoplite units – Iphikratean Hoplites, Seleucid Argyraspides and Chalkaspides etc. etc.

I love the fact that FoG II and its sister games have such a fantastic community of gamers and modders. Finding this latest upgrade today is rather like waking up to find that the Wargames Fairy had delivered a hundred new miniatures armies to my doorstep overnight…

Big thanks to Paul for his sterling work!

Pyrrhic Army with Tarantine Light Cavalry

Pyrrhic Army with Tarantine Light Cavalry

 

 

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.

 

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…

 

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