Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Saturday, May 31, 2014

SoA Slingshot Journal Giveaway.

The Society of Ancients has a giveaway on, with five copies of the latest issue of Slingshot (292) up for grabs.  You need to send in your entry by Saturday, so if you are interested you should get in quick!

Details on how to enter (just an email and answer to a simple question) are on the SoA blog, here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Roman Civil War in 90 minutes

I've got the game Caesar XL by Victory Point Games on my table at the moment.  It's a two-player strategic-level take on the battle for supremacy between Caesar and Pompey.

Using only 40 counters, a small sized map and a number of cards it doesn't take up much space to play. The rules are easy to figure out and seem to be complete to this point (ie, I've had no questions that the rules don't answer), which is a lot rarer than one might think!

It's turning out to be a fine little game, even when played solo, which is especially good for me. There are some lovely little touches such as legions being able to increase in experience over time and the cards add in some nice twists and a bit of historical flavour, usually manifested in the ability to recruit extra forces, fill up the coffers, or up performance in a battle.

One credibility strain is that leaders (aside from the big two themselves) arrive throughout the game by card draw, so Cato can end up fighting for Caesar or Antony throwing in his lot with Pompey.  To balance this quibble, the victory conditions are quite clever and add an extra level of decision making to the whole.

I do wish that the counters had been die-cut more evenly and the map image was higher resolution, but as VPG is a small operation such things are easily forgivable, especially when they don't detract from play.

I'm only one play in but indications are it will be a keeper. You never know, on candlelit occasions with the kids in bed I may even be able to convince my wife to give it a go!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Author of the Month: Patrick O'Brian

Picture borrowed from The World of Patrick O'Brian website.

As a kid I used to enjoy reading tales of adventure and derring-do on the high seas. The defeat of the Spanish Armada, tall tales about various pirates, books on men-of-war - HMS Victory in particular - and accounts of Trafalgar all passed before the eyes at one point or another.

But sometime during the teenage years my tastes changed and gradually I forgot most of what I had read and even why I had read it in the first place.

An interest in stories naval was however recently rekindled when, after my wife gave me a well-known e-reader as a Christmas present, I discovered the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian amongst a massive stash of mobi-format books sent by a friend.

I hadn't read any of the books before, but having heard them mentioned favourably I started reading "Master and Commander".

It was an immediately engaging book. Witty and at times genuinely funny, O'Brian employed an array of voices and beautifully drawn actors to portray the character of a ship and the men who sailed and fought her. I was hooked from the beginning.

Over the next few months I read through the books one after another, rejoicing in Aubrey and Maturin's triumphs, laughing at their quirks and feeling their tragedies. I came to know them both: their loves and their families; their interests, hobby-horses, idiosyncrasies and struggles; their ships, shipmates, and enemies; and, as far as you can with fictional persons, what was in their hearts.

Last week I finished the last of the series, "Blue at the Mizzen", and have been pining a little, in the way you can when something that you don't want to end eventually must.

If the books are taken as single items they are not going to come across as masterpieces. But when read as part of a whole they have a cumulative effect that is wonderful. I can't remember having laughed as much at any books since I was a kid reading Billy Bunter, nor having been as deeply moved by scenes since I first read Lord of the Rings way back when I was ten.

Although I'm writing this as an author of the month post, in Patrick O'Brian's case it should really be author of the year.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Simple Zama

I had the chance to have a couple of friends come over for a game the other night and in line with recent musings about accessible rules I decided to try out a 'derivative ancients' scenario.

Units and combat were based on Commands and Colors: Ancients, but without the heavy/medium/light distinctions.

Four figures per base meant four attack dice, three figures three attack dice and so on.  All movement was by hex, as per CCA, and shooting was as javelin-armed shooting in CCA.  Unit casualties were removed in bases so it would be easy to see how strong/weak the units were.

Most of my CCA boardgame gear is back in New Zealand, so we used normal dice for fighting and although I have some cards here we used die-roll activation rather than activation by card play.

Activation pips were d4+1.  It cost one pip to activate a single unit, two pips to activate a line fighting or all moving at the speed of the slowest unit and three pips to activate a line moving or fighting at their own speeds.  Leaders gave a one pip discount to line moves, but lines could not extend across left/centre/right boundaries and nor could they exceed five units.

The activation rules were simple but they gave plenty of scope for players to do what they wanted to do while also giving them some tough decisions to make.  It also avoided adding the extra layer of complexity that using a card system for activation would have entailed.

The scenario was going to be important. I went for a famous battle that had both sides fairly evenly matched and that did not have much in the way of terrain to worry about.  Given the armies I have painted at the moment, Zama was the obvious choice.

I would umpire to give rules advice and help keep things going if the guys got bogged down with options.

To win the game would require nine victory points, with VPs to be scored by destroying enemy units.

The first picture (below) shows the game after the opening move, in which M (as Rome) advanced his light infantry to pepper the elephants and the left wing to threaten the Carthaginian right.

B (as Carthage) responded by shielding the elephants with his own lights and advancing cavalry on both flanks.

Rome took a points victory in the tentative tussles on her right but Carthage got a clear advantage on the other flank (seen below) by virtue of some bold cavalry attacks.

B opened up a 6-1 advantage in unit kills over the Romans and it seemed that Hannibal might have an easy win.

But things were not quite as one-sided as it would appear from the score alone: the Carthaginians had six units reduced to just one remaining base, so if the Romans could get in close enough they would be able to even things up reasonably quickly.

But this was the time when Rome went through a low-pip period, and her attempts to polish off enemy units with missile fire from the Numidians did not go to plan.  Still, the Roman advance got underway in the centre, which caused B to worry for his elephants again.

As M's missile volleys drew closer, B advanced troops out of the line in an attempt to drive off the offending velites. In the confusion the Romans began to score some successes against those already reduced Carthaginian units, bringing the victory count to a more respectable 6-4, and opening up the possibility of picking off some more (if only the javelin men would shoot straight!).

With the pressure building in the centre B sent forward a unit of elephants to hit the Roman heavy infantry, but he could not quite finish them off.

In the counter-attack the elephants were destroyed and two other units with them.  It was now 7-6 to Rome as her remarkable comeback gained pace.

Carthage committed a second elephant which attacked a unit of hastati and while it died in the attempt it took a Roman commander with it.  Still needing one more kill to win the game, M could not quite manage it this turn as he failed to kill off the auxiliaries.  With the score 8-7 to Rome, B and his Carthaginians took up the pip die once more.

With two unit kills needed to claim the victory for Carthage, B threw in everything he could - elephants, Spanish auxiliaries and Gallic warriors.  If they did not win they would be killed in battle back, giving Rome the victory. It was to be knife-edge stuff...

And knife-edged it proved to be: with his last two throws of the dice B managed to kill off the stragglers and claim the last victory points he needed to leapfrog his great mate M and win 9-8.

It was an exhilarating game that had a bit of everything and I was very pleased with how it all went. I think it vindicated the simple rules approach and the 'give-the-players-the-options' command rules.

Both players had a great time and are very keen to play again at some stage, so a good result all round!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quick (and extremely derivative) Ancients rules

As I try to work myself back into gaming mode again I've been going back to an idea I had a couple of months ago for a kid-friendly, language independent miniatures game.

The plan was to base the rules on Commands & Colors and to have the table layout give the players most of the information they need to be able to play.

Infantry units would be represented by four bases and have four strength points, cavalry would be represented by three bases and have three strength points, elephants and war engines by two bases and have two strength points.

Four-figure bases would roll four attack die, two-figure bases two attack die, and so on. Missile fire would be restricted to troops armed with javelins, slings or bows, with one attack die lost if units moved before shooting.  For each strength point lost, units would have to roll a die pre-combat.  If a one was rolled they would lose one attack die.

Non-missile units would hit on fives or sixes and missile units would hit on sixes, whether using close or distance combat.  Leaders would either add an extra die or allow hits on fours.  Ones could, in some cases, cause a retreat.

Movement would be regulated by a hex grid such as a I normally use for true C&C games.

Activation would be by d4 roll, with one pip allowing a single unit to activate and two pips allowing a line of connected units to do so.

Players would be represented on table by leader figures and might be able to fight hand to hand against enemy leaders if they wanted to, a la Warhammer Fantasy Battle.

To win the game you'd need to kill a certain number of enemy units.

If used with my students I might allow a few extra rules: if they were able to remember to use certain sentences, for example, they might be able to roll an extra attack die, or move one hex farther than usual.

The main thing though is to have something fun and accessible for the cousins / kids' friends to play when they come to visit.

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