We played a 100 point game of Art de la Guerre last night. Matt led a Gallic army (8 swordsmen, 3 medium cavalry and a light chariot) against my Carthaginians (3 Numidian light horse, 3 medium cavalry, 2 African spears, 2 Spanish Scutarii, 1 celitiberian swordsmen, 1 Balearic slingers, 1 light javelins). This was our first involvement with impetuous troops. Lots to get used to there. Matt was defender, playing the part of the chieftain who can't believe that the Punic army only wants to pass through his lands. We played on a 120 by 90cm table, with 6cm unit frontages and 25mm figures.
The game played fast and bloodily. Matt deployed his horse out on his right wing, planning to go around behind the Carthaginian left. He set his warriors up in the centre, anchored to a wood on their right. I placed my Numidian horse on the left and medium cavalry on the right. The African spears took the centre, with Celtiberians on the left and the Scutarii on the right. To start with, we both advanced our right wing horse. The Numidian horse was able to slow down the Gallic cavalry, whittling them down, evading charges and generally keeping them occupied. The first melee was between the Carthaginian cavalry and the swordsmen on the left of the Gallic line. It was inconclusive for the first couple of rounds. The foot in the centre then clashed all along the line. Fortunes were mixed in this clash, with units on the right of both lines doing generally better. The pattern for the rest of the game was set: each side trying to eat up the opposition from their right flank. The Gauls on the right chewed up the Carthaginian left, punching a hole and turning to flank the Celtiberians. Meanwhile the Carthaginian horse got into a flanking position and returned the favour to the Gallic left, while out on Their extreme right, the Gallic cavalry started to disintegrate under enemy javelin fire. Alas for these troops, they stayed without orders for a couple of turns due to low command rolls and higher priorities in the main engagement.
While losses were stacking up at a similar rate in the infantry combat, the loss of their cavalry pushed The Gauls into demoralisation. The final ratio of victory points (12 to 6) belied how close the battle had actually been.
Impetuous troops can certainly liven up this game. I like it that they must win fast or get bogged down.
A 100 point game feels quite different from 200. For a start, with half the points but only one third of the commanders, CPs are in shorter supply. We concluded that only a very good general can afford a spread deployment, as there just won't be CPs enough to keep everybody moving. With fewer units, unlucky dice rolls can have a disproportionate effect, so next time we will perhaps use the reroll rule. We might even try average dice, although I have been warned against these for slowing melee down too much.
Not many photos from this game but I quite like the ‘action’ shot with the blurred moving chariot. The product of a poor camera phone but fun nevertheless.
The Gauls included some very old Minifig 25s, Newline 25/28s and Black Tree 28s. The size difference is huge but it didn't show so much during play as I'd feared.
I'm tempted to bring out the Macedonians soon, to see how pikemen perform.
We had another 500 point Bolt Action game last night. Matt and his GIs attacked Ian's Fallschirmjägers, tasked with capturing two objectives (a milk churn and a telegraph pole).
Ian had three small infantry squads, an MMG, flamethrower, sniper and 2nd lieutenant. He placed two squads and his officer behind bocage on his right; the third squad, MMG and flames in ruins in his centre-left and his sniper in more ruins in front of his centre.
Matt led three strong squads, a medium mortar and a 2nd lieutenant. His preliminary bombardment inflicted a few pins but not much else, besides killing the sniper’s spotter. He then brought his force in close together, leaving Ian’s right uncovered and pointing two squads at Ian’s left.
The game played out interestingly. Matt closed to close quarters as fast as he could, incurring some risks in the process. His tactics nearly paid off handsomely. The end result saw Matt in firm control of the objective on Ian's left but Ian was hanging on to the one on his right. Matt had got his forces at right angles to, and behind Ian’s cover (a stretch of bocage). He looked in control and had the game lasted another turn, Ian would have been hard put to hang on to the second objective. As it was, the game ended in a draw on turn 6.
There were some tense moments. True to previous form, Matt scored an early mortar hit on Ian's MMG, reducing it to paste in two rounds of firing. His mortar spotter knows his job. Make that ‘knew’ because Ian's sniper took him out soon afterwards. Matt fudged a move with one squad, but when Ian's flamethrower tried to capitalise on the mistake, it missed.
We discussed after the game whether a veteran force can perform well at 500 points since the numbers are so few. We concluded that it can, but that at this game size, one chance event can have a bigger effect on the outcome than in a game of 1000 points or more.
So the running total of BA games played looks as follows:
Matt: played 4. Won 2. Lost 1. Drew 1. 5 points
Ian: played 5. Lost 2, Drew 3. 3 points
Tim: played 5. Won 2, Lost 1, Drew 2. 6 points.
Before Matt joined us, Ian introduced me to 8th edition 40K. I had lost interest when 7th edition came out, mainly because the small forces we had built up with previous editions stood no chance against monster models like Imperial Knights, Stompas or whatever. It was great fun. Ian bundled an Ork mob, some stormboyz and a warboss down the road into my Cadian squads, sentinel, Company commander and commissar. I really liked the streamlined rules. Age of Sigmar turned me right off, partly because of the rubbish back story and some silly new models (a dwarf riding a dragon? Come off it! They will always be race enemies in my head). I loved the Old World and was sorry GW abandoned it. But 40K 8th edition seems to have improved play without ruining the universe. I will play this again.
After five games of Art de la Guerre against four different opponents, I am starting to feel more comfortable with these rules. DBA experience helped me to get going but ADLG needed to offer more: DBA is great for introducing new players to Ancients but for my taste is too vanilla to use as more than an entry game. The signs aree promising that ADLG has replay value and more subtlety to discover.
We have used the same two 2000 point armies for each battle: Republican Romans versus Carthaginians. Two games were with oldest sparring partner and tabletop nemesis, Keith; two with wargaming partners who are new to Ancients, Matt and Ian; and one with Warren, a complete newcomer to gaming. Keith, with whom I started playing Ancients back in 1982, knows these rules already and helped me to get to grips with the mechanics. I was glad of his perspective, especially about some aspects of flank attacks on which I find the rules unclear. Warren, at the other extreme, got the idea almost immediately. He had a grand time and is keen for another game, which is a good result.
So what impressions have these rules made on me? I really enjoy them. The command rules, a pretty close lift from DBA and its successors, work very well. I like the sense of control unravelling as the game develops and the choices proliferate. Shooting is dead easy and its effect well judged: it isn't too powerful but can make an important difference as a softener before melee. The Movement works well, particularly the ‘slide’ rule that helps avoid the situation when a unit can't move because a corner would clip a wood or other troops. Interpenetration is sensible and easily remembered. The rules for Light troops work very well, especially the ability of light horse to irritate an enemy but with a slight risk of being caught when evading.
Melee is exciting and works very well for armies dependent on heavy infantry to slug it out over several turns. I really like the way Impact and armour affect melee. It took me a couple of games to see the value of using the Rally order on troops in melee: I just presumed initially that troops couldn't rally while still fighting.
We did find that a pair of extreme dice rolls can upset a melee significantly. I wondered about using the optional rule of replacing normal with average dice, but Keith advised from others’ experience that average dice can make melee very slow to resolve. Instead, I am tempted to use another optional rule of allowing each side a number of reroll
I like the victory conditions, modified again by the optional rules. I also really like the terrain selection procedure, which in a game with Ian produced a fascinating table with a strong narrative (two groups of Romans, separated by a steep hill, try to join up before the Carthaginians can destroy one wing).
Overall, I am really glad I picked up these rules and look forward to learning how to use them properly.
Last week Ian, Matt and I played two 500 point games of Bolt Action in an evening. It was fun to be back with these rules after a short interlude in the 3rd century BC.
The aim in both games was to control a crossroads surrounded by buildings and hedgerows. The terrain was adjusted between the two games but the cobbled road stayed the same. It was a chance to use my recently finished ruined houses from Charlie Foxtrot Models.
In the first game Ian's US Airborne faced my German grenadiers. With the terrain so compact and the bocage rule (can't be seen through except by troops adjacent), we engaged at very close ranges. Both Ian and I both did better on our left flank. On his left, Ian caught a section of grenadiers before it reached cover and it spent the rest of the game down and sustaining casualties. On my left, a lucky first salvo by my medium mortar, followed by close range firing from another grenadier section, wiped out an Airborne squad. I thought the game was mine but Ian brought up his victorious left wing squads in turn 6 to contest the crossroads. With the game ending after this turn, we called it a draw.
For the second game, my grenadiers faced Matt's US infantry. Ian shifted the terrain around a bit after the first game, inadvertently making Matt's approach route quite difficult by removing a couple of gaps in hedgerows and fences. Again, we each did better on one flank (this time on the right) and Matt took out both my MMG and my mortar's spotter. But on my right, two sections got up close to a US squad that had stopped short of cover and destroyed it. I got overconfident, sent my lieutenant into the open to shoot up a mortar team and instead he was taken out. The game lasted for a seventh turn and at the end, I took the game with two squads on the crossroads. It was expensive however: had we been playing on points lost, I think Matt would have taken the game.
To be honest, I don't think a 1000 (or bigger) point game adds that much to the enjoyment of Bolt Action, except in one respect. Namely, with a 500 point game, a lot can hang on whose die is drawn first each turn. With more points, forces are more resilient so there is perhaps less at stake. Nevertheless I do like the excitement of that first draw each turn.
So back to our running total of BA games, we now have:
Matt: played 3. Won 2. Lost 1. 4 points
Ian: played 4. Lost 2, Drew 2. 2 points
Tim: played 5. Won 2, Lost 1, Drew 2. 6 points.
I need to sit out the next couple of rounds. My score won't look so healthy by the time the others catch up with number of games played.
For the past few gaming evenings we have been trying out a new rules set. I picked up L’Art de la Guerre at Valhalla in June, on the recommendation of a friend, who described them as a thoughtful evolution from WRG’s DBA/DBM. After a brief fling with DBA some years ago, I had given them up as lacking in colour or character. I buy lots of rules that I don't get around to playing, but ADLG looked interesting enough to arrange a test game with Matt, who has recently invested in some Black Tree Romans, Gauls and Germans and is looking for a rules set.
The game was a 200 point battle between Republican Romans and Carthaginians in Italy. I took Carthage. For a first game, we got the hang of things quickly and didn't make too many mistakes, at least with the mechanics. From the beginning, there were aspects that I liked very much, such as the way Numidian light horse can tie down a heavier opponent, and the general rhythm of battle between heavy infantry in the centre. The command rules impose limits and choices without making the player feel helpless. The mechanics of shooting and melee are extremely simple but with subtle differentiations. The effects of troop quality, armour, doctrine and weapon choice are all there, without weighing the system down. My elephant (Carthaginians in Italy are only allowed one) scared off Matt’s Roman Heavy Cavalry but was then thumped in the flank by his extraordinarii, routed and stampeded to the rear. Most satisfying!
A particular thing I like about ADLG is army selection. Much as I love Sword and Spear, I am not quite convinced by the division of troops into units of all the same frontage. I like being able to decide how big a contingent will be without having to round off to the nearest 12cm frontage. ADLG also lets me field troops who I don't have in large enough numbers for a Sword and Spear unit. Since several of my figures are now out of production, I do have a lot of odds and sods waiting around for a lucky eBay find.
We enjoyed the game very much and agreed it deserves getting to know better. Inevitably, I have been inspired to paint up more Ancients, adding some Gauls and African spearmen to the Orbat.
A busy time at work has kept me from playing games or updating this blog for a few weeks. I have however been using down time in the evenings to make terrain for our Bolt Action table. I find it better therapy than watching the TV....
For my birthday last month my son Nick gave me four ruined buildings supplied by Charlie Foxtrot models. Added to three intact buildings and some outhouses, I hope to have a passable French hamlet, or the outskirts of a town to fight over. The more varied the terrain, the more We tend to enjoy Bolt Action, partly because the limited sight lines make up for the much shortened weapon ranges in the rules.
I have finished three of the ruins so far. The lowest ruin had, I decided, been burnt out. I painted the second, with a hole in the roof but intact ground floor, as if it had not long been hit. The third one, with an intact stairwell but not much left on the first floor, had been like that for some time so had streaks and accumulated decay from exposure to the elements.
It is easy to get carried away with terrain, especially when the manufacturer does such a good job with the detailing. I have been playing around with free downloadable dolls house paper, for walls and floors. The scale is too big but it is easy to shrink the patterns either in a document or as you print. The website below offers free wallpapers tailored to particular decades so I have used the 1930s pattern book.
Of course, after a few weeks in the rain wallpaper will get soggy, peel off and fade. I found the simplest way to mimic this is actually to soak the paper with water and then to dribble the odd drop of brown wash down it.
All three finished ruins are still a bit bright to be truly realistic: I have not drenched them in plaster dust, brick rubble or ash. There is also too little debris on the floors. But bearing in mind these are gaming accessories and part of the overall look of the table, I am happy with them.
The doll house bug is a dangerous one however. At Salute in April I bought some dining chairs, a wardrobe and a couple of bed frames to scatter around the exposed rooms. I have promised myself I won't furnish the fully enclosed ground floors but i can't be sure that I'll be able to resist.
On Friday Keith and I replayed Bristoe Station, using Honour Games' Longstreet rules. The details are on the Scenarios page of this website, here. The game covers the attempt at the start of the combat by Heth's Division to cut off Warren's line of retreat. The shatter point for both armies was 24.
As Warren, Keith deployed his centre and right brigades behind the railway embankment (and so benefitting from cover), and his left hand brigade across the railroad in the woods. He supported his line with three batteries: one at Bristoe Station itself, one on the far side of Broad Run with a good field of fire across his front; and one on high ground behind his front line. As Heth, I put Cooke's stronger brigade on the left and Kirkland's brigade on the right. The front is quite restricted so I deployed Cooke's regiments in double lines.
For the first few moves I tried to close the distance quickly, having nothing to counter Keith's powerful artillery. I used up a lot of morale cards and still lost a good few bases. I also lost an entire turn as Keith shot my general (playing the 'couldn't hit an elephant' card) and rolled 6, wiping out my entire hand. On my right, Keith's brigade in the woods came looking for Kirkland, forcing me to refuse my right. I tried not to divert too many units from the main assault but as Keith reinforced his troops on my side of the railroad, more Confederate regiments got stuck into firefights with Federals.
However, I was pretty happy with Cooke's progress and approached the embankment with promising local superiority over the Yankee right. But my losses rose quickly as we came into small arms range and I was pushed over my shatter point with Cooke just a couple of inches from the railroad.
This was a great game and brought out some of the best aspects of Longstreet. The rules are really easy to remember and strip out unnecessary gloss, but the action cards bring in the flavour of the period- and of the specific stages in the war- perfectly. I came off worse partly due to the Yankee guns card, which made his artillery particularly deadly. Losing 6 Action cards and a whole turn due to my general getting shot increased the time my troops spent in the artillery killing zone.
A good test of any rules is how close a refight comes to what actually happened. Well, we couldn't have got closer to the real outcome. On the day, Heth made it to within yards of the railroad before his men were broken by weight of Union fire. At a couple of points in our game, the positions of the troops almost exactly mirrored the map of the actual battle. Very satisfying. Hats off to Keith who had not read about Bristoe Station but saw and exploited the benefits of the terrain pretty much as Warren did in real life.
I now want to rerun this scenario using Pickett's Charge, which uses the same ground and units scales. To be honest, they'll have to be pretty amazing rules to shift me from Longstreet. Friday's game reminded why Longstreet is still my favourite rule set for any period.
On Wednesday we played another two games of Bolt Action. The first was the latest in our three-way escalation campaign. In this, Matt's Normandy US assaulted my German grenadiers. We played 750 points a side. Matt had a discount if he took armour and so deployed a Sherman alongside two regular infantry squads, a veteran engineer squad, a medium mortar, a medic and a First lieutenant. I brought three squads, an MMG, a medium mortar, officer and Sdkfz 251/10, all regular. Matt would score vps for destroying my units, having units in my 12" deployment zone and exiting units off my table edge. I would just score vps for destroying units. I could start hidden and place one squad in fox holes.
Matt rolled pretty poor dice for preliminary bombardment, except against my very last unit, a half track with anti tank gun. He promptly converted his 6 to a knock out so I was down one half track before the game even started. This was my only ranged anti tank weapon although fortunately I had allocated a panzerfaust to each infantry section.
I set up my three squads from left to right across the table, the left two on wooded high ground and the third in fox holes on the flat. My MMG sat behind a stone wall in the centre, facing down the road against the advancing Americans. Matt brought most of his force on table on his right, throwing his Sherman down the road and gathering his infantry sections in the grounds of the house. His Sherman and mortar were the most active in the early turns, while his infantry crept closer. Matt also brought his engineers across from his left, concentrating his whole force in the right half of the table. With no enemy in front of them and no anti tank capability besides the panzerfausts, I sent first my right hand squad, then the centre squad forward to close with the US left and try a bit of tank hunting.
Both our mortars inflicted some tidy casualties from mid game having ranged in, but Matt's hits were more effective as they reduced my left hand squad to nothing, just as his right wing assaulted my left in the closing two turns. Matt mounted a concerted attack on my left, with an infantry squad and his Sherman entering my deployment zone. I had the satisfaction of knocking out the Sherman with my centre squad's panzerfaust but when the game ended at the end of turn 6, Matt had a 3 point advantage so won the day. It was a really close and enjoyable game.
Our campaign results so far are:
Matt: played 2. Won 2. 4 points
Ian: played 3. Lost 2, drew 1. 1 point
Tim: played 3. Won 1, lost 1, Drew 1. 3 points.
So Matt is the man to beat, out in front with a game in hand.
We then played a game of Tank War. Ian and Matt led two panthers, a Panzer 4 and a STUg to an easy victory against my three Shermans, Cromwell, 6pdr anti tank gun and infantry in a half track. Aww crap. With no need or incentive to close the range, the Germans sat on their baseline and took out my units one by one as I tried to get near enough to inflict damage. I did manage to jam a Panther's turret and my fire dice could perhaps have rolled higher, but I was basically doomed! At least it was over quickly.... still, the table looked good, and as Matt pointed out, it was probably an accurate outcome. I have three more Shermans on the paint bench and maybe next time, we can get enough Allied tanks into killing range before the German cats take them all out. No, I'm not bitter. Well, maybe a little...
I have spent the last couple of weeks painting ACW casualties. I picked up a copy of Pickett's Charge from Too Fat Lardies and they have really caught my imagination. Longstreet is my favourite game for brigade actions (actually it's my favourite game full stop) but it was over its limit when we used it to play day one of Gettysburg. On to Richmond by Paul Koch is excellent for army level actions, with its brigade sized units and streamlined mechanics. But Pickett's Charge strikes me as a good set for divisional and Corps level battles. Unlike Longstreet, these rules require casualty markers, so I needed to get equipped. I bought 30 casualty dials from Warbases, which show numbers from 1 to 12, and painted up some Kallistra 12mm casualties I have had for a year or so. I stuck them on the dials and added sand, tufts and flock. I am pleased with the results. The casualties don't stand out too much but my aim is for the dials to blend in to the rest of the table, which I think they will do.
I decided against splatting ketchup everywhere. The most I'll paint on a wargame figure is a red stain on a bandage. I think this is a generational thing. Zulu is my favourite war film and I wanted my sons to share my enthusiasm. They quite enjoyed it but both thought it odd that with all the shooting and stabbing, virtually no blood was visible throughout the film. This had never occurred to me! Anyway, I prefer my casualties to be nearer the spirit of Zulu than of Saving Private Ryan.
Perhaps I should have waited to see if I enjoyed playing Pickett's Charge before making the markers. But I'm pretty confident it will go down well.
For our first game, I am looking at Bristoe Station in late 1863, the one after which Lee told Hill to bury the dead and say no more about it. I am attracted to the fog of war in this battle, when a force pursuing a retreating enemy was suddenly assailed from a new direction entirely. It is a situation that most wargame rules make very hard to pull of: usually the players can see too much and the rules allow them to do too much. I'm hoping that Pickett's Charge will provide the balance between restricting player omnipotence and still giving a satisfying game.
Meanwhile I have just finished reading Rebel Yell, the biography of Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson by S.C .Gwynne . It is a great book, showing the contrasts in Jackson's character and bringing his campaigns vividly to life. The accounts of fighting are authoritative and clear. This isn't a biased account: Jackson's frailties are scrutinised as closely as his strengths. There is plenty of inspiration here for the wargamer. The author doesn't speculate on what would have happened had Jackson not died after Chancellorsville, but is certain that the loss to the Confederate military cause was immense.