Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Friday, May 26, 2017

A little something in the mail...

Just had this beauty arrive in the post today and am looking forward to getting into it on the train tomorrow. His first book was very good, and this looks to be possibly even better.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alexander: a grand tussle

And so we turn to the second game in our Lost Battles Alexander campaign. This time, Issus.

Alexander debouched onto the plain as the Persians awaited him behind the Pinarus...

... and we switch to our easy-to-see troop outlines. As before, Macedonians in red, Persians in blue.

Turn 2: the Persians advanced into their key zone so as not to take a morale hit, but left an enticing gap for Alexander himself to advance into if he was game.

It turned out he was.

Turn 3: fighting in the foothills goes the way of the Persians. Elsewhere also the fighting is fierce, with hits scored on both sides. The Greek mercenary hoplites give a particularly good account of themselves, and there is tension as the 'Favour of the Gods' marker changes hands several times during the clash.

Turn 4: Alexander's Hypaspists and Companions put the enemy in the centre left to flight, and these carry off the light infantry with them, much to the relief of the Prodromoi (who were looking decidedly shaky up in the foothills). The rest of the Persian line holds, and Parmenion is rather disappointed with his Thessalian cavalry - they have not performed as vigorously as their fame would have suggested.

Turn 5: the Persian cavalry now shatters a unit of aforementioned Thessalians, but on the Persian left the camp falls, and with Alexander around the flank and bearing down upon him, Darius - he's not rated timid for nothing - gathers his bodyguard and flees.

With the king gone no one else feels much like sticking around either, and Alexander claims the victory.

It has been a hard-fought battle. Although the Persians have lost the field they have done just enough damage to the Macedonian army to win on points, 102 to 97.

A very close game, and whoever the guy who soloed it is, he's ruing the fact that he forgot to use Alexander's ability to steal turn initiative (but we won't talk about that!).

So, after two battles, it's one win apiece. Gaugamela is calling....

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The tottering giant

Ever since I've been a proper wargamer, the miniatures page forum (TMP) has bestrode the virtual wargaming world like a colossus. It's been the place to go to for news, general info, chat, and good advice; the spot to meet like-minded enthusiasts, to share a recent thrill, post a link to a latest game report, or hear the things in wargameville that are exciting people.

Being myself physically distant from any other miniatures gamers, TMP and TMPers taught me most of what I needed to know about collecting, prepping, painting, researching and so on when I first got into the hobby. Of course, there were other good places too (and good people - thanks Luke and Pat), but if you needed to know something right now, or if you were facing a conundrum and wanted to see how others with more experience had handled that same issue in the past, or if you wanted interesting discussions, TMP was indispensable. In fact, I would not be a wargamer without TMP, and I owe it and its denizens a huge debt (in more ways than one, says my wife. Ha!).

So the fact that things have not been right there for quite some time, that periods of calm followed by bitter and seemingly unnecessary blow ups over peripheral things that have nothing really to do with the primary aspects of our hobby contrive to drive more and more people away, is a great shame.

I finished up my membership there in January or February of this year, for reasons which I won't go into, but I still drop by as a casual viewer.

All things go in cycles, and as I've said here before, there seems to be a trend in the hobby towards fracturing, but it's a shame to see such a formerly (and, for me, formatively) influential place in such a bad way. Maybe the editor at TMP has just been doing it too long and has had enough. It's hard to maintain enthusiasm and keep perspective on one thing for as long as he has; perhaps he's just worn out and hasn't quite seen it yet.

I think there was a tremendous amount of goodwill around TMP for a long time, but it seems to be running on empty at the moment. Some people with a bone to pick are glad about that, but I am not glad about it at all. It was a huge help to me and I don't enjoy iconoclasm for its own sake.

In the end though, it's only wargaming; it's no great matter. Still, for a time, it was about as good as a wargaming warren gets, and, being the place that nurtured me as a fledgling gamer, worth remembering with fondness and gratitude.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Alexander: a great diversion

To keep myself sane between bouts of work and assignments due I've decided to run through a little Alexander campaign using the boardgame version of Lost Battles. Oddly enough, in all my years of playing Lost Battles, I haven't actually played through the Alexander scenarios. I did a couple of turns of the Granicus for a video tutorial, but as far as I can recall, that's all.

I had been waiting to finish painting up my Persians to do the Alexander battles, but as the big guy in the sky alone knows when that project may ever be completed, what's wrong with cheating a little and using the boardgame for its intended purpose?

Anyway, I played through the Granicus scenario last night, so here's an account of the affair.

Deployment turn, with the Persians in the foreground. They have a line of horse defending behind the river with mercenary hoplites off table ready to march into prominence. Alexander commands his right, with the Macedonian cavalry and the hypaspists as his main strike force. The phalanx is in the centre, and Parmenion holds the left.

Here it is transposed to our representation. Blue represents the Persians, red the Macedonians.

On turn two the Persians engage the Macedonian right and the hoplites come onto the field. Alexander attacks; Companion cavalry advances to engage the Persian left; Parmenion advances.

Turn three has the Persians outflanking Parmenion and reinforcing the centre with the Greek mercenaries. A lack of commands limits the effectiveness of the Persian attacks, but the phalanx is under pressure crossing the river.

Alexander is forced to pull back the Agrianians and the Prodromoi after heavy fighting. The hypaspists advance to bear the brunt of the Persian resistance while Alexander himself probes for a weak point.

On turn four a powerful Persian attack supported by the Greek hoplites sees the central phalanx waver, but it holds due to a timely intervention of the Gods (the 'Favour of the Gods' counter was played by Alexander to force a re-roll of a spectacularly successful Persian attack; an attack which could not be repeated so effectively the second time).

The Companions are victorious on the far right of the Macedonian line.

On turn five the Persian line continues to crumble. The left gives way as Alexander commits himself to the forefront of the fight.

On turn six the Persians rout entirely.

After victory points are tallied, the Macedonians and their young king have won a clear - bordering on major - victory, and Darius III has a fight on his hands.

So, a good start for Alexander. He was fortunate indeed to have the Gods on his side!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

All's quiet

There is little to report here of late. My internet buddy Andrea and I have an age of fighting sail game going on over VASSAL at a (thankfully!) leisurely pace, but apart from that and the odd bit of online chess, there is not much going on as far as gaming as concerned.

Normandy '44 has been removed from the hobby table to make way for coursework which is, boringly enough, going to take up my hobby time until the end of July; all primed or partly-painted figures are in boxes awaiting time and motivation; rulebooks are in their accustomed places on shelves; and the only thing that I'm doing of any real interest is reading at nights and on trains the decidedly unwargamerly but nevertheless very fine Anna Karenina.

There are a few plans afoot however, and the coursework taking up time now is hopefully going to prove useful later in keeping the wolf from the door.

Until next time...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Normandy '44, first turn

One board game in my collection I purchased with high hopes but haven't properly sat down with is Mark Simonitch's Normandy '44. I decided therefore to lay it out and play through at least a couple of turns.

The rules are fairly straightforward, but there are some interesting additions to your bog standard hex and counter rules. Firstly, there is a special kind of zone of control called a hex bond which allows very tight defence lines to be established through which enemy units may not advance, retreat, or trace supply. Secondly, attacking units must nominate a 'main attacking formation' which fights at full strength and that can be supplemented by other units which attack at half strength. Thirdly, there is a 'determined defence' rule, which allows defending units that receive retreat results in combat to roll on a table which may permit them to stand fast, possibly at a cost to themselves.

Anyway here are a few shots of my progress. As usual, the game is being played solo.

Bad jumps for the 82nd and 101st Airborne. High casualties, and the troops are badly scattered.

The British jumps don't have a lot of joy either.

The invasion forces: American.

The invasion forces: Canadian and British.

Sword Beach.

The landings at Utah are very successful.

Those at Omaha less so, but they are there.

The forces landing at Gold and Juno take a lot of step damage, but all units survive.

So too at Sword.

The overall view is of success. The troops have got ashore. Most of the armour is spent, but there is quantity and quality to resist the German counter-attacks.

German and then Allied turns follow the landings. At close of June 6th the positions look like this.

The US sector has seen German units converge on the bridgehead. The 82nd Airborne is isolated and in all kinds of trouble, but if they can last the morning of the 7th they will be rescued.

The Canadians and British have done well in their sectors. The have avenues of advance and Caen looks inviting.

And the overall position at close of day.

There are 22 turns to the game, so I'm not sure that I'll get through them all. It does look already to be a game worth learning properly with a view to playing face to face or over VASSAL.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Gaming war and war as reality.

It's been brought home by recent escalating tensions near here just how crass wargaming must seem to those living in war's shadow or, worse, living its reality.

Lately there have been people on wargaming sites around the web wetting themselves with excitement over the gaming potential of recent flash points and, today, over the US letting loose the so-called 'Mother Of All Bombs'.

The reality is that thousands of lives are on the line right at this moment, and that most of those are innocents who happen to live in a particular place at a particular time, who go about their lives like everyone does, caring for their families, enjoying their friends, and hoping that when their time is up that they leave something of themselves behind that those who knew them will recall with fondness or with pride.

I love the challenge of trying to win a game. I enjoy replaying wars and battles from the past, seeing how the original commanders approached certain problems, and trying situations out myself on a board or on a map.

But I am uncomfortable with modern war, and, by extension, modern wargaming. It's kind of like war as porn. Glorying in technology, the roleplaying of good guys and bad guys, knowing that our guys are good because they're ours, no matter why they are involved or how they are used, and in spite of the current political reality and the moral separation of means and ends. We are told all that is possible is done to avoid civilian casualties, and while I hope that is true, is that enough to justify our involvement, the destruction our involvement brings, and the falsehoods that are used to get us there? The reality is confusion, hatred, uncertainty, fear, death, decay of morality and good purpose and awful destruction of person, family, place, community and society. It's sidestepped with a kind of smugness in wargames and by wargamers - "oh, but see, we're not celebrating it; in fact, WE of all people know just how awful war is..." -  and yet there many of us are, thrilling to the deployment of new and destructive weapons systems, asking which games we can buy that model it, play-mooning about how long it will take for our order to arrive - or what the wife will say when she sees the credit card bill - when we should be asking why we are using these things at all, and where they are taking us. It seems that many wargamers are simply invigorated by it. In the end, it seems, a fair proportion of us want to go and blow things up just like they do on the TV.

Mostly, war does not touch us, except in the abstract, or by proxy. But this week, as the potential for crises rises, war suddenly does not seem like much of a game.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fire and Movement

One book that I'm positive would be of interest to wargamers of all stripes is Phil Sabin's Simulating War. As well as outlining the theory and practice behind wargaming, Prof. Sabin takes the time to illustrate his axioms with numerous practical examples from designs of his own. As usual with Sabin's games, they cut fairly directly to the chase, ignore extra complications, and are often good for the solitaire gamer to mess about with.

A game from Simulating War that I've been wanting to try out for some time is (one of) Phil Sabin's take(s) on WWII infantry combat, Fire and Movement. The situation involves two under-strength German infantry companies (one mortar and six rifle platoons) being attacked by a British battalion (one machine gun, one mortar and twelve rifle platoons) across a battlefield 8 hexes wide and 6 deep.

The rules are simple: move a platoon and it is spent; shoot with a platoon and it is spent; hit an enemy platoon with fire and the enemy is spent. Spent units can do nothing until they are able to recover.

The trick then is, on your turn, to use fire to suppress as many enemy platoons as you effectively can so that those platoons cannot move or shoot on their own turn.

As the turn order is move, shoot, recover, it neatly forces players to think carefully about where and when to move or shoot - and whom to target - without recourse to complicated activation rules.

In addition to the suppression aspect of fire, there is a casualty track, and every time an enemy platoon is hit successfully, that unit takes a casualty. When the total number of casualties reaches seven, one platoon is removed from the field and the count starts again at one. The British have another problem to contend with: ammunition depletion. Every time a British platoon fires, one 'unit' of ammunition is used up. Once the total number of ammunition units used reaches seven, the last platoon to fire is out of ammunition and removed from the field, and, as with casualties, the ammunition count is reset to one.

The Germans do not have to worry about ammunition depletion (lucky them!).

There are a couple of other things I should mention. Firstly, if a platoon is fresh and adjacent to an enemy, it can perform an assault attack. Assault attacks cause three casualties rather than one, and so are dramatically more effective if you can manage them. Secondly, the Germans start the game dug in, and if they remain dug in, said platoons can ignore one casualty per fire attack, meaning that they can really only be damaged by assault. Some terrain (farms) has the same 'ignore one casualty' effect.

Thirdly, firing units can target units in two hexes that are adjacent to each other if the firing platoon has line of sight to both hexes. This provides a significant incentive to spread platoons out in an effort to lessen the effects of enemy fire.

Fourthly, both sides have a mortar crew off table to call on, and the British have a machine gun team on table. Both mortars and machine guns are rather more effective at hitting the enemy than your standard rifle units, but mortars must have a fresh platoon on table to spot on their behalf.

Lastly, platoons can stack up to two deep in a hex, but if the hex is hit, both platoons are affected, so it's better to spread out if you can, unless in dead ground or, perhaps, when gearing up for an assault.

So there we are with the rules. Fairly short, fairly direct, and quite clear in what they want players to do. The difficulty for the combatants of course is to combine all of these simple rules (and ideally some favourable dice rolls) so as to get your chaps into a winning position. When determining the victor, the Germans get one victory point for every British platoon broken by fire and one point for every friendly platoon still on board after twelve turns are up. The British get one point for every German platoon destroyed, plus one for each friendly platoon on an enemy baseline hex at game end.

The Germans always move first each turn.

Interestingly, the board terrain is diced for before the game. Having a copy of the old Avalon Hill classic Battle Cry to hand, I decided I would use this for the board, as it has most of the terrain features readymade.

Here is my battlefield. Unfortunately for the Brits (I'm actually using Americans, but hopefully you can't tell in 6mm!), the field is very open and there is absolutely no cover for them on the advance.

After deployment, the Germans will dig in in these positions as shown (though using foxholes rather than abatis, one presumes!).

The British start with only two companies and the machine gunners on table. A preliminary bombardment is marginally effective, so they advance as quickly as they can, and bring on more troops.

This is the table after turn two.

On turn three the British deploy more reinforcements as they push forward on the left and and the right, leaving a clear lane of fire for the machine gun platoon in the centre to assist in suppressing targets.

After turn three.

The British are able to advance on the right by suppressing the German squad in the trees with the machine gunners, but the attack is stalling on the left due to deadly accurate fire which pins down the bulk of the British platoons.

Casualties are starting to mount, and ammunition shortages are forcing careful conservation of attacking resources.

After turn four.

A failed assault on the British right leaves the advanced German platoon intact but under severe pressure. With no one able to support it, it seems like it's just a matter of time before the British have their first success.

In the centre, the British gunners and mortars are able to suppress key support units in the centre, but the German right is causing steady casualties to the British left. All the British reserves are now on table, so from here on they must make do with what they have.

After turn five.

It takes two more turns before the British on the right can work the Germans out of their position. The tactics now are set: suppress with the gunners or mortars, advance two platoons into assault position, and then assault with both to inflict six casualties, break a unit, and force the position.

But in the time it is taking to do this the British left is being cut to pieces, and those platoons that can still move are now moving backwards, not forwards.

After turn seven.

(Showing some of the targeting as each side look to cut down the other's options)

With only five turns left the British need a miracle. They are able to hop forward on the right and take another defended position, but time and casualties are against them. The German mortar crews buy valuable breathing space by suppressing the British Vickers gunners, who are thus unable to help cover the advance on the right.

Attacking and defending lines.

Assault, advance, suppress - and advance again.

On the final turn the British make a desperate attempt to assault the central strongpoint, but they are repulsed by determined defensive fire. Exhausted by casualties and ammunition depletion, only three British platoons are left on table, and so the British lose by ten points to three. 

Final position.

Well, I thought it was a cracking little game to play solitaire. There are some lessons for me to digest and some tactics to go over, so I think I'll be playing this one again. It's not one that you'd take down to club night week in and week out, but the simple rules reveal a clever little game of - to coin a phrase - fire and movement (thank you, I'll be here all week!).

And if you've got this far, thanks for reading.

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!

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