Matt and I played a 100 Point game of Art de la Guerre on Wednesday. Matt commanded Republican Romans while I had a Gallic army. This was the first time we have played with impetuous troops and with light chariots. I had hoped to field enough Gauls for 200 points but was 30 odd points off. I need to get my last bare metal Gauls onto the painting table.
Matt won the initiative roll and chose to attack. The field had two gentle hills and a field, all spread around the table edges. The middle of the table was completely flat. Matt placed his cavalry on his right and rested his left on hills. I put my medium cavalry on the right and light chariots and scouts (javelin armed light cavalry) on my left.
My plan was to hold back the centre at the start and send my mounted troops forward. The chariots were to attack the Roman horse on my left. On the other flank my Medium cavalry were to go deep right, to discomfort the Roman centre but wait for the Gallic foot to advance and then join the attack. I reckoned that the first turn disadvantage against Roman swordsmen needed offsetting with some combined arms combat.
My right wing cavalry galloped down the field and onto the first hill. I faced them at about 1 o’clock and then turned my attention to advancing the left and centre. Matt meanwhile peeled a base of hastati off his centre, turned them to face my cavalry and began to advance. I had a turn to react but chose not to. On his next turn Matt charged my cavalry in the flank. I elected to evade, in the expectation that I could travel deeper towards the Roman rear. However, the rules revealed that evading troops must make a 90 or 180 degree turn before scampering off. Instead of going down the table, I had to face the side. Even had I rolled a 1or 2 I’d have still left the table. Idiot.
I deserved that three times over. First, I should have chosen my position and facing more carefully. Then, I had time to respond to Matt’s threat but didn’t. Finally, I chose to evade without knowing what that means in the rules. Accepting the flank attack would have been expensive but at least I might have done some good. As it was, the hastati had time to rejoin the main line having done their job of chasing away the threat. I won’t do that again. Probably.
Anyway. On the Gallic left my chariots attacked and got the better of the Roman cavalry while my centre advanced. In the event, the first clash of the heavy infantry went the Gauls’ way almost everywhere. Despite the Gauls losing impetus against the Roman swordsmen, the Gallic dice just rolled higher. The luck evened out in following rounds but my first round advantage held and the Romans broke three points before mine did.
The last few turns were tense and Matt’s victory point tally nearly overtook mine. But if I won the game, he got bragging rights for chasing off 14 points of cavalry with a base of hastati.
I like ADLG. The rules are clear and I find them a lot more enduring than the entry level DBA. I do however wonder about the wide range of outcomes possible in a combat round. This victory felt unjust. Matt‘s swordsmen should have had the edge over my Gauls but the dice rolled well for me and poorly for him. Perhaps this was more noticeable because we were playing a 100 Point game: my luck probably wouldn’t have been so great with more combats to resolve in the centre. Perhaps we should focus on 200 Point Battles in future. So I’d better get all my Gauls painted.
I have recently picked up a project that I had abandoned a good four years ago. The year that Warhammer Historical folded, I had picked up a cut price copy of Kampfgruppe Normandy by Warwick Kinrade. It is one of the best rulebooks I have ever read, packed full of historical information, scenarios, Army lists and photographs. I bought the makings of two 20mm forces, one British and one German. I painted a platoon of British and assembled some vehicles, but then stopped. The main reason was the gift of some 28mm Germans and a Warlord King Tiger, followed closely by a group decision to start up some forces for Bolt Action. We have been steadily building our Bolt Action armies and I especially enjoyed creating a stock of terrain pieces.
Bolt Action is great fun but with my table size, it will only ever permit platoon sized games. Tank War in particular is frustrating since the action all occurs at such close ranges. I hanker after something bigger, if only company or battalion level. Last summer I picked up the new printing of Battlegroup, which is pretty much the exact replica of Kampfgruppe Normandy. Another well-written rulebook, although less full of goodies than KgN, it has got me back into playing with smaller models. The 20mm project is back on track.
Several times in recent years I came close to selling my unfinished 20mm collection to fund new projects. I am relieved I didn’t. I have now painted two platoons of German Grenadiers, various support vehicles and an Assault gun. Several models are rejuvenated plastics that my friend Keith used to play with in the 70s. He donated them to me when a house move finally compelled him to thin out his collection. I have also picked up some new kits and am mid way through painting 3 panzer 4s and a troop of Stugs. 4 Shermans and two 6pdrs are on the production lines.
I now have to persuade poor long-suffering Matt to give Battlegroup a try. I swear he thinks this is my way of stopping him from developing his skills. Every time he masters one set of rules I hit him with a new one. In this case, I know he will thank me for the introduction.
We played a three handed daytime game of Bolt Action on Saturday, to mark the first visit by Ian since he left for Asia in December. It was good to be back in BA after a run of Ancients games. Ian brought down his US paratroopers and Fallschirmjaegers and I wanted to include them in the game so I prepared a 1500 Point scenario very loosely based on Market Garden, as follows:
“The 101st Division has been holding the road open to Eindhoven, the first piece of the airborne carpet over which 30th Corps plans to roll in its drive to cross the Rhine. Delayed from the start, the Armoured column is struggling to stick to its timetable. The German forces have reacted faster than the Allies expected and are pulling together an increasingly powerful defence.
Place 3 objective markers along the main road, at 18, 36 and 54 inches from the Southern table edge.
The game lasts 6 turns, with the possibility of a seventh on a roll of 4,5,6.
1 VP for each enemy unit destroyed; 2VP for each objective controlled by troops within 3”.
Matt used his US troops as the relief force, with a Sherman, half track-mounted squad and an infantry platoon. I created 750 points of Heer Grenadiers for the on table Germans and a selection of Waffen SS and Fallschirmjaegers squads, a Stug and a panzer grenadier squad for the reinforcements.
The objectives were represented by oil drums, milk churns and a dog kennel.
The US paras set up in foxholes around the bicycle workshop and the dog kennel objective. The on table Germans all set up to the East of the road, with two squads and an MMG behind a hedge facing South and the rest facing the Paras to the West.
In the first stage of the game, Matt’s relief force attacked the German hedge line while the rear area Germans, reinforced by two arriving squads, attacked the US Paras. In the second stage, the relief force destroyed the hedgerow Germans and advanced on the second German line, while the rear area Germans tightened their grip on the Paras. In stage three, the relief force was stalled by the destruction of an M3 halftrack, and held up long enough for the US Paras to be badly mauled and dislodged from the dog kennel objective. The game ran to a seventh turn and ended with the Allies holding 2 objectives for 4VPs, plus 3VPs for German units destroyed. The Germans meanwhile held one 2VP objective and destroyed 6 US units. So a German victory at 10 VPs to 7.
The game was closer fought than the final score suggests. The US Assault on the first German line was quick and effective, destroying a 10 man squad and an MMG in short order. The second German line held well however, and was helped by the arrival of the Stug which first destroyed the halftrack then placed itself in ambush round the curve of a hill, threatening to enfilade a further US advance northwards. As it happened, when the Sherman did move into view the Stug only managed a ‘crew stunned’, but this bought enough time for the Germans to wipe out the US Paras.
We played a 200 Point game of Art de la Guerre last night. Matt led the Army of Philip V of Macedon against my Republican Romans. Matt was joined by Warren, in his second ever wargame, as commander of his left wing. This was the first ADLG game we have played with pikemen and it was an Education I’d rather have skipped.
Matt won the initiative and chose to attack. I decided to meet him in the mountains, hoping to exploit the vulnerability of pikes in difficult ground. I selected the maximum number of terrain pieces and Matt chose the minimum, one of which was a road. We ended with an impassable river down one flank, a lot of difficult terrain on the other one and a bowling alley down the centre.
It started well for me. Then the game began. With great care, I deployed an ambush of triarii in the difficult ground in my left rear, planning to tear into the Macedonian flank as they bore down on my centre. What a plan. I then completely forgot my basic idea and set off across the table to attack the enemy on their baseline. What a pillock.
Our centres met in open ground and after the brief benefit of impact in the first round of melee, my Swordsmen began to crumble. Warren kept my right wing busy with his Greek and Illyrian horse and Agrianoi javelinmen. He knocked out my Velites and Roman cavalry, then started hammering my heavy infantry from the flank. At about the same time, Matt punched a hole in the centre that I lacked the reinforcements to plug. Where were my triarii when I needed them? Oh, yeah. Sniggering in the bushes on the far side of the table.
The end came in a rush, with too many of my depleted units breaking together. In all, Warren’s flank attack took out two bases of swordsmen, two Roman cavalry units and two velites. On the opposite flank Matt’s Companions destroyed my allied cavalry, while his rock hard pikes in the centre overturned my heavy swordsmen, admittedly after several rounds but with grinding inevitability.
Lessons? Well, if you make a plan, stick to it. Pikemen in the open really are hard to stop and if I’m going to engage them frontally, I should have a pretty good chance of getting troops around their flank before they steamroll my swordsmen. And maybe in future I should spike the enemy’s drinks...
Warren seemed to enjoy himself and had the baptism of stabbing his hand on the agema’s pikes not once, but twice. You’re not a true Ancients player until you’ve drawn blood on a spearpoint.
It is lovely playing with my old 25s. Some of the Macedonians date back to 1982 when we started playing Ancients. Their pikes are dreadfully brittle and held together with superglue. The definition on the moulds is poor by today’s standards but I still love them.
Anybody else know the song Roads to Moscow by Al Stewart, circa 1974? A rare rock song about WWII that isn't thrash metal. Every time a German tank dies in a game, I think of the line:" Two broken Tigers on fire in the night." I was humming it last night.
Ian and I played a game of Bolt Action Tank War. We had 2,200 points each on an 8’ x 4’ table. This was the biggest game we have played so far, with every tank we could get our hands on.
Ian’ Germans had 2 Panthers, a Panzer IV, a Stug and a Puma, plus 520 points of Fallschirmjagers. My British had a Cromwell, 6 Shermans and 500 points of infantry. All tanks on both sides and the British infantry were regular, and Ian's Fallschirmjagers were veteran. I began with 14 dice and Ian with 11.
The table was quite busy to ensure we didn't have too many uninterrupted lines of sight. It was divided up the middle by a cobbled road, on one side of which were the outskirts of a village and on the other, more open farmland. We rolled four objectives which we placed in a rough line, lengthwise down the middle of the table. Three of them were in the village, which was on Ian's left and my right.
On turn 1, Ian placed a lone Puma on his extreme left; his Panzer IV in support of most of his infantry in the centre, then his remaining armour, along with a single infantry squad and an MMG, in the fields on his right. I sent all my infantry into the village in the centre, one Sherman into the open ground on the left and the rest of my armour behind the village and on my right.
I struck lucky early on, knocking out the Panzer IV and a Panther in turn 2. My dice rolling balanced out later when my armour repeatedly failed to damage Ian's vehicles, but it was a great advantage to roll so many high numbers in the opening stages.
The game split into three combats: on my left, the Remaining Panther and Stug duelled with 4 Shermans (quickly reduced to 3); in the centre, our infantry fought for control of two objectives in the village; and on my right, the Cromwell and 1 Sherman played peekaboo with the Puma. Early luck tipped the scales in my favour and by game’s end Ian had lost every tank but his Stug while I had lost just the one Sherman. With two objectives apiece at the end of turn 6 we counted points and I got a ‘clear victory’.
I think this was my luckiest wargame for a very long time. Did skill come into it? A bit, perhaps. My tanks used cover more than Ian, who confessed he had put his faith in the superior armour of his Panzers rather than tuck them behind walls. In truth, an awful lot of my fire did bounce off harmlessly but if you take enough shots even a 75 will get through eventually. I also think it helped to keep my infantry in mutual supporting distance. But if truth be told, I won because I had a big fat slice of improbable luck. Bless him, Ian stayed cheerful until the last 6 was rolled. He used his Puma to tie down three tanks for much of the game: I almost regretted knocking it out on turn 6. Almost. And at least his Stug shrugged off every single attempt to pierce its armour.
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.
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.