Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

War of the Ring

A couple of chaps who live locally and have been featured on this page before were keen to get together for a postprandial game last night, and with one of them a committed Tolkien man it seemed an opportune moment to try out War of the Ring.

Being quite taken with the idea of an evening stroll in Middle Earth, Matt and Ben inhabited the earthy cloaks and shining helms of the Free Peoples while I assumed a darker - you might even say more shadowy - guise.

We didn't really know what we were doing (which incidentally favoured this incarnation of the Shadow, whose main strategy seems to be a blunt one: attack with overwhelming force), but here is a short AAR anyway.

The Shadow mobilised for war and took Lothlorien almost immediately with a scarcely credible series of dice rolls. Rivendell was thence bent to our Will.

A shadow falls on Middle Earth...

For the Free Peoples the Elvish folk were ready for war but no one else cared to entertain the thought. While Gandalf and Strider detached from the fellowship and sped around in a vain yet Churchillian endeavour to warn the North and Rohan (and everyone else) of the coming peril, Saruman prepared and struck at Rohan with all his might, or at least a decent percentage of it. Helm's Deep fell without a blow, and Edoras too was abandoned.

Why was Edoras abandoned? Because the Rohirrim, fighting fire with fire, sought to capture Dol Guldur from the forces of the lidless eye.

Orcs and Nazgul attack nasty Elves.

And so an entertaining game of move and counter-move followed as both sides utterly disregarded the Ring and strove to win a military victory.

The Free folk took Angband and threatened Mount Gundabad - which would have left them one VP shy of victory - but the Shadow retaliated by taking various other spots and threatening Dol Amroth, leaving Sauron two short of a dark triumph of his own.

On to Gundabad!

But with both sides still a turn and some good results away from win, the bell sounded, and we were obliged by our native good sense to call it a night.

We were all over the place with rules and strategy, but in spite of that the game was great fun, and we could all see the potential there.

Hopefully we'll get to play again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

1st St. Albans

After a couple of weeks of diminishing returns in attempting to finish off some 15mm figures, I decided that I would clear the hobby room table and give another boardgame a go.

Having already tried one of the battles without making much progress, I resolved this time to make the effort to properly learn the rules for Blood and Roses, a game from Richard Berg's Men of Iron series.

The Yorkists (White), arrayed in three battles, are endeavouring to give the Lancastrians a bloody nose and force concessions out of the king.

The Lancastrians are ensconced behind the Tonman Ditch, which, while difficult to traverse, is rather longer than the Lancastrian line. The Yorkist intent then is to get Salisbury across on the left and York across on the right to turn the line from both ends.

Sadly for the Lancastrians, there's not a great deal they can do about it. Their troops are average, they are outnumbered, and they have no longbowmen.

The turning movements begin...

The tactics for the Yorkists are pretty obvious: outflank them; soften them up with the bowmen; then attack with qualitative and numerical superiority.

Salisbury gave us a textbook example, as seen below:

After the longbowmen have disrupted Clifford's foot...

...and after the heavies have gone in.

And after this the net got ever tighter.

Somerset under pressure.

Now Northumberland in trouble.

With the Lancastrian strategy being merely to hold out until nightfall, there were few chances to counterattack. But when those chances did come, they were led by Clifford, who fought desperately to protect the king and fend off that rabid dog, Salisbury.

The king's person changed hands twice, but York would not be denied.

The Percies have had enough.

The heroes of the day for York were many, but for Lancaster only Clifford could hold his head high.

"A Clifford, a Clifford!"


I'll give this scenario another shot or two and look to make sure I'm doing all the rules right (there is a suspicion that one or two things may have been a little 'outside the book'), but once I've done that, I think that I'll enjoy working through the other battles in the box. For all that a boardgame lacks in spectacle compared to miniatures, it's a lot cheaper, it's less time consuming, and it's more portable than two all-options Wars of the Roses armies in 15mm would be!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Messing about with hoplites and legionaries

Following a recent discussion on the Lost Battles yahoo group I've spent the last week or so with a test game set up in the hobby room pitting the Spartan army of 2nd Coronea against the Roman legions from the battle of Sentinum.

The hypothesis on the yahoo group (advanced by Patrick Waterson) was that the hoplite system as represented in Lost Battles is actually tactically superior to the legionary system in the same.

It's just the kind of 'how many angels can fit on the head of a pin' wargaming argument that rings my bell, so I've been enjoying exploring it on the table.

I won't bore readers with details, but as hoplites can use depth to greater effect and  legionaries have greater staying power, the answer, unsurprisingly, is that any such clash would depend on the terrain and the exact composition of the armies.

In the real world no such clash of systems occurred, but in my hypothetical battles the Greeks won three out of four despite having a lower fighting value. Veteran hoplites tended to chew through the legionaries very quickly, but where average quality hoplites were fighting average quality legionaries, the Roman cavalry generally had enough time to outflank the Greeks and gain the advantage.

It was another interesting Lost Battles experiment and, incidentally, the first chance I've had to field my Xyston hoplites.

'Hoplites, Sah. A few dozen of 'em!'

Diceless variant by Patrick Waterson - requiring lots of note-keeping and markers.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Games in the classroom II

With the Japanese school year winding up and my classes winding down I thought that rather than finish my elementary school lessons with the usual couple of review lessons I might instead try a board game. Over the last two weeks then I've been bringing in Settlers of Catan for the older kids, dividing their classes into four or five teams, and letting them play out a simplified version of the game.

We don't use the robber or development cards, and to make team play more interesting each student is given a role (harvester, trader or builder), and they must represent the team in that particular phase of the turn. To encourage greater participation all teams take turns gathering produce (i.e. roll dice one after another), then all teams trade in a plural session, then all teams build.

It has gone down really well, and it has been educational to see how the Japanese kids adapt to the situation.

Social dynamics in Japan are quite interesting, and this game stretches some of the children's ideas about co-operation and competition. While team members must co-operate with one another to understand the game, their roles within in, and their team's overall strategy, each team must also co-operate with other teams to a certain extent. But this co-operation of course is actually fuelled by self-interest, and once the kids see this underlying tension they start to get into the play and enjoy themselves. The division of labour allows students to try out different roles throughout the game session, and the role-playing itself subverts the normal pecking order in each class.

It has been nice to see the quiet kids, the shy kids and the no-one-expects-much-of-me-so-I'll-daydream-or-be-disruptive kids actively participating in an activity and having their contributions valued.

One particular kid who has had a bad year turned out to be the leader in his group and it was good for him and perhaps for his homeroom teacher to see that established patterns of behaviour can be changed by taking different approaches.

Anyway, it has been a worthwhile experiment - even if there was not always a great deal of English being used - and I think I'll try something similar again.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Basing: a question of style

This morning while doing the tedious if ultimately rewarding job of applying white glue and flock to another 24 bases of 15mm troops I started to give some idle thought to the question of why I have not changed my basing style in any noticeable way in ten years.

Now, I am an admirer of many types of basing (and a silent dismisser of some others), but my own basing falls somewhere on the wrong side of middling. It's not attractive, scenic or dramatic in the way that many schemes are, but (he says defensively) it's not just a coat of paint, either.

It's been suggested that adding some tufts and clumps would help improve my armies, and I have to say that I agree.

So why haven't I yet done anything about it?

Well, the main reason is that early on when getting into wargaming I saw examples of various wonderful basing schemes - dry-brushed groundcover topped with different shades of flock cunningly applied to give the impression of highlighting; others of clumps, stalks, water features; hedges, bushes, flowers; snow; desert flora and fauna; rocky vistas - that look magnificent individually, but mismatched when paired on the table with another beautifully based army that uses an entirely different approach.

I saw that both basing styles might be awe-inspiring on their own, but if they did not match on the table it would be all for nothing.

Right from the beginning then I plumped for boring, easily replicated uniformity over the brilliant and unique. I wanted my Iberians, Gauls, Numidians and so on to blend in seamlessly whether they were fighting by the side of my Romans or my Carthaginians, and I wanted them to look okay with Osaka Luke's armies as well.

To be sure, I had a few false starts (and some of my early armies still have a few white stones that glare rather balefully from their bases, but these are slowly falling off, and given a little more time will be nothing but a memory...), but once I found what I wanted I stuck to it.

The other reason I haven't done anything is that my time is limited (i.e., I am lazy), and to add tufts and clumps to the many hundreds of bases I would need to to keep things uniform seems like a lot of extra work.

So there we are. For better or worse, simplicity is here to stay for the near future.

The drying continues...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Spare us, oh Lord

With reports of a horde of Vikings having landed nearby, the local thane has called out heathguard and villagers to stand against the northern menace.

Here they come!

The archers on the Saxon right are quickly overcome.

In the centre the marauders cross the stream, to be hit by a hail of javelins.

The Saxon left is also assailed.

But the first northmen across the stream, undaunted, charge into the shieldwall.

And the rest follow.

The fighting is furious, and the lines begin to waver on both sides.

It seems for a moment that the Vikings may have had enough.

But it is not so.

Instead, it is the Saxons who begin to give way.

The fighting on the Saxon right is vicious.

The line may hold...

But the Vikings have come too far to give up.

In the confusion they cut down the Saxon thane, and the battle is won.

With the route to the village now open, we avert our eyes from the Vikings' rapacious appetites, and prepare instead for Wales vs England in the rugby...

Monday, January 30, 2017

Board game frustration

Despite my recent spate of Middle Ages (and middle aged) book buying, I recently became sidetracked reading U.S. Grant's memoirs, and decided to set up the Battle of the Wilderness scenario from the highly regarded Grant Takes Command, a board game in the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series.

I actually have four games from this particular stable, but had never played any of them.

I set up the board, admired the pieces, consulted a few sources to work out the historical troop movements, and started to play.

Opening moves.

Well, to cut a long story short, I got through four activations and then packed it all in. The interest wasn't there.

And this is what happens all the time when I set up a board game. 

I don't quite know why it is, but playing board wargames against myself is just not all that much fun. It's not a nice thing to admit given the contents of my game room, but there it is. There are exceptions, but basically, the action doesn't seem important and it's not enjoyable. 

I love board games against other people, and I enjoy games over VASSAL, but repeated experiments have shown that no matter how interested I am in a topic, there is hardly a game in my collection that two or three nights set up on the hobby table with only myself for company will not make me want to put away. 

One always lives in hope that next time it will be different, or that an enthusiast will move in just down the road, but the become excited, set up, leave a couple of days, take down pattern has become so ingrained it's almost Pavlovian.

With a big and expensive move coming up later this year I suspect I'm going to have to do some thinking about whether all of these games are really worth hanging onto or not.

On the plus side, there's no such problem with my miniatures collection!
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