Last night I had my arse handed to me on a plate. In the first game of Sword & Spear for a year, my Epeirot army was comprehensively pounded by Keith's Republican Romans. I did everything wrong, deploying my phalanx right on the front of the deployment zone, putting cavalry in a guaranteed traffic jam on the left and leaving my light troops, who seriously outnumbered the enemy's, milling about uselessly in the rear. Keith managed to absorb the threat of my elephants with a velite unit that lasted long enough for his Centre to close the gap with mine. When my phalanx 'crashed' home, three of the four units were disrupted by Roman thrown weapons, losing fresh status and hence the crucial extra two impetus dice. It was not a glorious evening. To add insult to injury, my dice rolled so consistently poorly that Keith, who was rolling sixes with the self same cubes, offered to get a fresh set of dice to break the jinx. Sometimes it's better to stay in camp. Actually, it isn't: the game was still exciting, I learned masses of lessons for the next time (just you wait!) and we polished off a jar of very good Somerset cider by the end of the evening that softened the blow. And in case of misunderstanding, I was losing big time before the dice turned against me, so I have nobody to blame but myself. And Keith played a nigh-on flawless game. This was the first outing for my new Romans so I'm pleased for them. No, I really am...
The day had started well, with a trip to Valhalla in Farnborough with Keith, Ian and Will. There were fewer stall holders and games than previously but my favourite traders were there: Warlord, Colonel Bill's, Newline and Charlie Foxtrot. This last team, Colin and Kevin, came up from Devon with a great range of mdf buildings and counters. I picked up some Bolt Action Brits to take me over 500 points; a German MMG and a Charlie Foxtrot farmhouse kit. I also picked up a 60mm Sword and Spear measuring stick and counters from Charlie Foxtrot. Fat lot of good it did me! But the stick is a great player aid, with ranges and movement distances marked on it.
On balance, it was a great Father's Day. To top it all, my older son gave me a DIY bacon kit. Just add pig.
A few months ago my painting plans were put on hold by the arrival of several boxes of old Minifigs 25 mm Ancients, mostly Polybian Romans plus a smattering of Carthaginian and Spanish opposition. They had belonged to Marius, an old sparring partner of my friend Keith. Marius died last year and his widow asked Keith to find homes for his Wargames collection. The Ancients came my way, as I have owned Minifigs 25mm Greeks and Macedonians from the early 1980s. In fact, my figures are from the last Minifigs range, which is still available through Caliver Books
The figures Keith gave me are from the Minifigs PB range which preceded this one.
The PB figures are smaller even than 'standard' 25s and some of the spears are on the trunky side. They reflect the accepted picture in the late 70s of how troops dressed. Thus, Carthaginian citizens have pointed shield bosses and all Spanish scutarii have cloaks and are bare headed. Animation is a bit staid and all rank and file in a unit are identical. However the proportions are good, some of the poses are very nicely done and, well, I just love them.
I decided to paint up the Republican army to face my Successors. Several units of Hastati/ Princeps had been painted but most of the figures were bare metal. Marius' collection included a great many Romans with spears, far more than would be needed for Triarii. I converted one 16-man unit of Spearmen to pilum-armed troops, by pruning back the spears and sinking sections of wire in the tops to represent the long metal shafts. The conversion worked quite well as it changed their silhouette, although it was a bit rough and ready.
I decided to stick close to the colour scheme used by Marius and to keep to a simple painting standard. I used Army Painter soft and hard tone washes but otherwise used very little highlighting.
I have now completed enough units to field a small army for Sword and Spear, amounting to:
4 units of Hastati/Principes
3 units of Velites
2 units of Triarii
1 unit of Latin allied foot
2 units of Roman cavalry
1 unit of Allied cavalry
1 unit of medium Spanish horse
1 unit of Scutarii
I am very pleased with the look of the final army and hope Marius would have approved.
This has been a great weekend. My oldest friend and opponent, Keith, came up for three nights to coincide with Salute 2016. On Friday evening, we played a game with Tercios, repeating the scenario from 1660 in Ukraine that I tried with Ian a fortnight back. As I expected, Keith really took to the Tercios system, especially the obligation to think carefully about the orders for each unit at the start of each turn. In this game I commanded the Polish assault on a Muscovite redoubt. Unlike Ian who succeeded in this role in our previous game, I was repulsed with heavy losses.
On Saturday Keith, Ian, my sons Nick and Will and I spent the day at Salute. I wasn't sure about the Steampunk theme but Keith, who had grown mutton chops especially for the occasion, assured me that there are some good games to be played in dystopian Olde London. I nevertheless resisted the temptation to invest. Instead I picked up some Fire and Sword 15mm Polish 17th century dragoons, a box of 28mm Warlord British WW2 Infantry, 24 Newline Celtic infantry and To the Strongest, yet another Ancients rule set. It was the best Salute I remember of the past few years. Interesting that clubs from Scandinavia are attending these days. One Swedish group laid on a beautiful early medieval display game,using the skirmish rules, Lion Rampant, adapted for larger battles.
Inspired by those Swedes, on Sunday Keith and I played two games of Lion/Dragon Rampant. We created two retinues using Warhammer Empire figures but agreed not to use magic or monsters, so in essence our forces matched the Lion Rampant 100 Years War lists. One scenario was about collecting taxes in a border village and the other required one side to escort a convoy from one corner of the table to the other. The sense of storytelling was strong and the rules worked very smoothly. We each won one battle, so the score was two to one in Keith's favour by the end of the weekend.
That evening we were joined by friends who don't wargame but do have a fascination for history, so we ended the weekend as we had started it, engrossed in conversation about Wellington in the Peninsular. A pretty hear perfect few days. If only I had taken more photos...
I have been working my way through a project to rejuvenate some very old Minifigs Republican Roman 25s. They came my way after the widow of Marius, a childhood opponent of my friend Keith, asked if he would find homes for her husband's figure collection.
Keith knew I already had several Minifigs figures and offered me a big box of Romans, Spaniards and Carthaginians. He remembered gaming with these figures in the 1970s, although they had evidently spent many years on a shelf, replaced by more modern projects.
Rediscovering these old castings has been great fun. I am not expert in the history of Minifigs but I believe this collection is from their penultimate (or original?) range, which had certainly been phased out when I started collecting ancients in 1981. They are even smaller than 'true' 25s, especially the horses, and the detail is superficial. However the proportions and poses are good and I find the look en masse very pleasing.
It turned out on inspecting the box that there were more unpainted than painted models in Marius' collection. I started by rejuvenating the painted models, all of which were of Hastati/Principes holding pilum over-arm. They had shiny blue shields with copper bosses and strips and were based in old style with filler painted green. I made up three new units of 16, leaving one of them with blue shields as a link to their past livery. Most of the repainting was of shields, plus an Army Painter soft tone wash on the flesh and bronze paint on helmets.
After repurposing the painted models I started creating new units to supply a respectable Republican Army for Sword and Spear. I found that I have a huge number of Triarii Spearmen, but no more troops with Pilum to reinforce the front line. I created a fourth Hastati/Principes unit by shortening the spears of a Triarii unit and inserting brass rod in the tops to provide the long shank of a pilum. I am pleased with the result. I will use other surplus Spearmen to create allied legionaries.
I have kept the paint jobs on new units simple and compatible with the older figures. The shield transfers are by Veni, vidi, Vici. I think they look impressive, even with telegraph pole spears, and if wanted to go super detailed, I shouldn't be using 1970s figures in the first place.
I have also completed a unit of Carthaginian Spearmen, holding shields with bosses, as they were portrayed back in the 70s. I know today's thinking is that bosses would have made fighting in a phalanx uncomfortable, but they look good, reflect the received wisdom of the day and that's enough to earn a place on my table.
This has been a really enjoyable exercise and I am glad Keith thought of my interest. I hope Marius would feel that I have kept to the spirit of his army and that he would be pleased to know they will keep on fighting for, I hope, another several years. So here's to the memory of Marius and to the pleasure of getting veteran wargame figures back onto the gaming table.
I recently picked up four 25mm elephants on EBay. They had been advertised as Sassanid but looked more Classical and I tracked them down as Carthaginians made by the late lamented Garrison. They came with a job lot of slingers, jevelinmen and a couple of Persian-style spearmen, as well as three crewmen for each animal. I think they are my best ever EBay find.
The elephants needed a fair bit of filing down and filling, but I am delighted with the end result. Lovely animation and they fit very well with my mostly Minifigs army. I will use them to represent Successor elephants but am sorely tempted to buy more 25mm Carthaginians.
One down, three more to go...
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.