Saturday, 11 May 2019

Second game of Men of Bronze

After a wee cup o' tea and a chat, we sat down for our second game of Men of Bronze. Amending our units of measurements from the previous game, we agreed that 1BW = 1cm (effectively halving the distances from last time).  

We were playing with the same sized forces as last time. Lee (top of the photo above) commanded the same two drilled hoplite phalanxes, two units of peltasts, and a unit of slingers, all nominally hailing from - or employed by - Corinth. My force (bottom of the photo above) was sort of similar with two units of drilled hoplites, two units of slingers and a unit of archers, all mercenaries in the pay of the  king of Lowland Macedonia.
Again, the first few turns were all about moving in the general direction of the enemy. While I tried to make use of the rough terrain on my left...

... Leeandros pulled his peltasts back out of range, seeking shelter behind the phalanxes. In general, I think we both agreed that the shorter movement rates (1cm BWs) meant that the units stuck closer together and looked more like an ancient army rather than a selection of units thrown together (as we found last game).

At this point I was beginning to feel that Leeandros was concentrating his strength at one end of m line. My slingers were snarling from the rough hill slopes, but weren't sure they wanted to come down off the hill into the open plain.

The most beautiful game mechanic moment of the battle then unfurled before us as Leeandros ordered his left-most hoplite phalanx to charge my archers. As there is no pre-measurement allowed in the game, he sent them forward only to discover that they didn't have the movement. The hoplites stumbled to a confused halt just short of the archers, breaking into open order and becoming disordered. My archers unleashed a volley at point-blank range, causing the hoplites to lose a point of courage.

At that moment, I broke my right-most hoplites into open order swung to the right, ordered them back into phalanx formation and charged the wavering Corinthians. My other hoplite unit also charged forward, straight into the other unit of Corinthain hoplites. Lee chose to bring in two neighbouring units (peltasts and slingers) as supports. Initially we sort of smudged them both in behind the Corinthian hoplites, only later forming them 'properly' into an outlandish looking column (below).  

I brought one unit of slingers up behind my archers ready to provide some support as I expected to be charged by the last unit of Corinthian peltasts. Then, unsurprisingly, my archers were charged by some Corinthian peltasts. In the melees of that turn, the archers took a beating, the wavering Corinthian hoplites continued to suffer from the Macedonians attacking their flank, while my other hoplites lost some more courage from the onslaught of the Corinthian column.

In the next round of combats, my archers and slingers lost all their courage and fled. The Macedonian hoplites being attached by the Corinthian column also scattered and ran. Immediately afterwards, the wavering Corinthian hoplites broke and fled. That was enough to cause a collapse test on both armies. While the remaining Macedonian hoplites and slingers stood their ground bravely, the Corinthian army was not so confident.

The only Corinthian unit which remained in the field was the drilled hoplites. They broke into open order, turned, and charged (in open order) at the Macedonian slingers...

The Macedonian hoplites, not having learnt the lesson from watching the Corinthians last battle, charged into the Corinthian rear. However, due to the rule anomalies, the Macedonian hoplites were only supporting the slingers in their scuffle with the Corinthians. With the roll of the combat dice, the Macedonians managed to completely route the Corinthian hoplites. However, the Corinthians were fierce enough to have routed the slingers and - again, that support rule - the Macedonian hoplites turned and fled too. With no man left standing on the field of battle, it seems that the crows and next year's harvest are the true winners.

Two games down, the rules are enjoyable, but still a bit of a mixed bag for me. The basic tenants are great. The arete points system is an elegant way of adding friction, and the combat system really is very good. Shorter 'base widths' as a unit of measurement made for a better game than last time. However, the Warhammeresque double-movement-charge-range makes missile weapons pretty obsolete (maybe a regular movement distance charge move would solve that?). More of an issue is that the combat 'support' system just doesn't work for me. I'm not sure what the rational is behind it, but it doesn't feel like it reflects what we know of hoplite/ancient warfare...

First game of Men of Bronze

This week we were able to get a couple of games in of Eric Farrington's (EF) new Men of Bronze rules, published by Osprey. Both Lee an I have been building up 10mm forces with this game foremost in our minds, so it was great to be able to get our wee chaps on the table for a run through. The rules are written to be scale and basing agnostic - a big tick in my book - but it seems pretty clear that they don't seem to have been extensively tested with anything other than units composed of multiple singly based figures. 

The numbers just don't always stack up. Distances are measured in base widths (BW), which works fine if your phalanx is composed of ten hoplites on 1 inch bases. If the unit moved 6BW, obviously that is a move of 6 inches. However, that doesn't translate for multi-based units like ours (on 60x40mm bases). At this scale, you don't want a standard move by heavy infantry to cover 36cm (6BW of 60mm)! Now, EF does allow that BW don't need to be base widths, but can be any unit of distance agree by the players which makes sense, but then why call then base widths at all? Why not call then distance units? 

So, step one for us was agreeing on a unit of measurement. In this first game we opted for 2cm, meaning each of our units measured 3BW x 2BW. 

We agreed (or I just said and Lee didn't argue...) to play the generic battle scenario, 'Decisive Battle'. The battlefield was all open ground, with a rough hill in opposite corners. We both deployed in rough lines, keeping the minimum distance possible between units (friendly units cannot usually be within 1BW of each other).

Leeandros of Corinth commanded a force of two drilled hoplite phalanxes, two units of peltasts, and a gaggle of slingers. Nikelaos of Macedon led some heavy cavalry, a single militia phalanx, a single Illyrian warband (classed as drilled infantry in this game), and a unit of peltasts. Both forces consisted of 32 points of doughty lead warriors. The average game seems to be around 38 points a side, but Lee isn't quite there yet. Seeing the size of this game, I'd suggest games up to 50ish points would work fine (and look great).

Curiously, under the scenario rules for Decisive Battles, the armies "should be roughly equal points, with no greater difference than a single point." This is a fair statement, except that all units are costed 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, or 2 points. So what EF is saying I suppose, is that you need to have forces of the same point size for this type of game...

The first couple of turns were spent coming to grips with movement system, bidding for initiative, and what to do with your arete points. Arete points are one of the key fatures of the game and are a really lovely mechanic. The basic rule mechanics are pretty straight forward and we got the hang of them pretty quickly.

... and then arete points were used to charge, and phalanxes shot across the table like canon balls! Coming back to the BW issue, a phalanx 60mm wide charging 24cm in one move seemed ... Warhameresque. There was no sense of lines of armoured men working in concert - it sort of became every unit for himself.

My Illyrian infantry charged at the Corinthian slingers, but they evaded and proceeded, in the following turn, the sling stuff into the faces of the enraged Illyrians. 

One of Leeandros' drilled phalanxes charged at my militia hoplites, who counter-charged in turn. The other Corinthian drilled phalanx tumbled into my poor peltasts, and I had no arete points left to get them to try and evade! The decisions required and the command friction created by arete points is, as I mentioned, a great mechanic.

The Macedonian militia phalanx won their combat, pushing back their Corinthian foes and standing their ground. The Macedonian poor peltasts took a pounding, fell back and started to waver. However, the Macedonian heavy cavalry had been skirting round the right flank of the battlefield, and Leeandros' own peltasts were looking ill at ease.

And rightly so - the Macedonians charged in and routed one unit of Corinthian peltasts in a single round of combat. 

Over on the left, the Illyrians also finally came to grips with the slingers. Although they caused the slingers to lose courage and start to waver, the brave light infantry held on for another turn.

At that point, things got a little weird. For starters, my wee lad interrupted the game and gave the Macedonian cavalry a peacock feather. The second unit of Corinthian peltasts charged all the way back across the table to join the melee between their slinger-pals and my Illyrians, and the unharmed Corinthian phalanx chose not to charge my peltasts again, but to add their support to the phalanx-on-phalanx action in the centre.

A word about supporting units in a melee:
On p.18 EF discusses a zone of control  around all sides of a unit 1BW wide (mentioned briefly above). No units, friend or foe, may be within this ZOC unless they are engaged in melee (and also units supporting a combat, although this is not mentioned until later). However, on p.21 it says that in order to be able to provide support to a friend in combat, units have to have a leader (front central figure) within 3BW of the fighting friend. Therefore, with our bases measuring 3x2BW, a unit needs to be practically touching their friend's ZOC in order to qualify.

Units that do qualify as a support, except when they are charging into the flank of an enemy already engaged in melee, get sucked up behind the friend they are supporting, effectively forming one deep unit with +2 combat dice. With our multi-based units, that means we end up with a hoplite column deeper than it is wide which just looks and feels wrong. In this game we only had this situation once (above). In the second game we had a hoplite phalanx supported by two units, so it ended up as a column 60mm wide, and 120mm deep...

Here is when the support rules also make me bite my lip in thought. In the combat above, the Illyrian drilled infantry are fighting the Corinthian slingers. The Corinthian peltasts, charging in from the flank, are not considered the be 'attacking', but instead add their dice in support of the slingers. Even though the peltasts are fresh, comparable in fighting ability to the drilled infantry, and attacking a flank, the slingers are still the primary opponent for my drilled infantry. If, as happened here, the Illyrian drilled infantry cause enough hits to make the slinger unit break and flee, all supporting units also break and flee. So the fresh peltasts run off the table leaving the bloodied-but-still-standing Illyrian infantry howling n double triumph. I suppose the lesson to be learnt here is not to support a friend who looks like they might break?

Back in the centre, the Macedonian heavy cavalry swept in the deliver a 'supporting' flank charge against the deep Corinthian phalanx block (already engaged against my militia spearmen. We then remembered to look at the 'Collapse Test' rules, which mean that units can flee from the table once the casualties start stacking up across the table. I'm not sure if we played it correctly (I think we did...), but the Corinthian hoplites in support broke and fled after failing their discipline rolls, leaving just one unit left.  

The Macedonian peltasts now swept around to the left of the combat and charged the Corinthians in their other flank. In the ensuing melee, these were the dice rolled. That is an unnatural number of 1s on my part, but enough hits were scored to cause the last Corinthians to flee the battlefield.

In reflection after our game, there were things that raised eyebrows, but the game was fun. It flowed really well and there were enough tough decisions to keep us both engaged. The combat mechanisms, for melee and for shooting, are clear, easy to pick up, but nuanced enough to not make every unit handle the same way. Hoplites in phalanx formation are tough nuts!

The rules really do feel like they were written for singly based models with the 'basing agnostic' line thrown in as a bit of an afterthought, but there is nothing in unsurpassable. EF enourages the use of house rules to fix things players don't agree with, but I don't really feel that a player should have to use house rules to fix what is written. 

After a quick tea break, Lee and I sat down for another bash. The report of our second game is to follow.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

10mm steppe goblin assassin and giant

The 10mm steppe goblin horde gathering has been a bit slower recently due to work pressures, but I have managed an assassin - Snickers the Knife (from one of the Polar Fox Studios steppe goblin command strips) - and also a giant.

The giant is actually a tribal hunter from Blind Beggar Miniatures' recent Palaeo Diet Kickstarter. As the Blind Beggar hunters are twice as tall as my 20mm prehistoric collection, I looked around for another use for this chappie, and decided he made a pretty good 10mm giant.

Stanley knife modelling putty at the ready, I set about embiggening (may not be a real word, but used on the Simpsons a looong time ago) him. I added eye lids to reduce the comic book appearance of the eyes; cut some little shields from plasticard, added shield bosses with putty, and added them together with a 10mm skeleton head as belt trophies. Lastly, I cut up a spare halfling and used putty to add a tare to the sack for the halfling to be struggling out of.

He was a fun model to build and paint. Even though he has been matt varnished, he still looks pretty shiny in the pictures. I might have to take him out back and give him another spray.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

ROMANES EVNT DOMVS - Tigranes and Triumvirate Romans in Mesopotamia

As Andrew has recently completed his third 6mm army for L'Art de la Guerre - Triumvirate Romans - we took the opportunity this week to get our wee chaps on the table and roll some dice in an epic 1st century BC grudge match in northern Mesopotamia, with the Romans up against the forces of the enlarged Armenian kingdom of Tigranes II, King of Kings.  Apologies for the photos - the light was not enough for my phone and I didn't think to use a flash!

As the defender, I elected to fight on a largely featureless plain. There was a wee village of locals to help supply out camp, a couple of fields and a rough looking gully, but otherwise a big open expanse of level grassland - perfect for what I expected to be my massively overwhelming cavalry superiority.

On my left flank I had two units each of pikemen, heavy swordsmen (imitation legionaries), and bowmen, supported by two units of slingers and three groups of LMI javelineers. My centre consisted of six units of cataphracts, and two units of elite cataphracts. On my right was a small division of four wee swarms of mounted archers. Andrew had three divisions each of four heavy swordsmen (seemingly imitating my imitation legionaries...), supported by an array of skirmishers: two Cretan archers on his right, three LI with javelins in the centre, and two slingers, two medium cavalry, and two light cavalry on the right.

Rolling fairly poorly early on, my line advanced slowly with the exception of the javelineers in the fields on my left, and the light horse division on my right. The Romans played it pretty straight as well.

Then, the Roman triumvir refused his left flank, but charged his light horse forward. I didn't want my horse archers pinned - there was a threat of medium cavalry in charge range - so I pulled them back.

As the Roam line advanced, Andrew through his Cretan archers into the rough around the gully. Irresistible bait to my whooping hillmen, so I let them go. And whoop they did as they first destroyed one unit of Cretans before turning on the second.

On the right, I brought my horse archers back into shooting range, trying to disorder the opposing light horsemen before they could bring their javelins to bear. I brought most of the cataphracts up in support, extending the line by bringing up the second line of elite cataphracts too.

My foot archers peppered away at the advancing legionaries, managing to disorder both units facing them, but the Romans (on the whole) continued to advance. 

He actually had the nerve to charge my cataphract division too! The impertinence of it all! The geometry of the two lines meant that the Romans sort of came in all squiffy and ended up in two blocks with a gap in the centre. The Roman light cavalry also charged in - but this time the horse archers stood their ground, happy to play the numbers game.

There was a bit of a crash and a thump, and very quickly there were piles of tiny little dead men all over the table. One cataphract unit, and one group of light horse archers were quickly destroyed thanks to some nifty rolling on Andrew's side of the table. Elsewhere, however, the Armenians had the better of the melee.
As the cavalrey clash continued, the foot on the Armenian left also found themselves in a challenging situation as they were faced with a wall of uniformly iron-clad central Italian hayseeds (so uneducated that few of them could even speak Greek!).

At that moment, the poly-lingual warcries of the 'Armenians' attracted Tyche's titillation and the goddess of fortune blessed us with a bucket load of 6s. All along the line, the Roman lines became disordered forcing many a red-faced centurion to blow his little whistle in frustration.
Even the second unit of Cretans who had managed, against the odds, to hold off the Armenian hillmen, finally crumbled and fled the field.

In the centre, the 6s continued to fall from the heavens as the Roman triumvir fell, his cavalry fled and the legions were engulfed in cataphracts.

In the all-infantry melee, the Romans were finally starting to inflict hits on the Armenian line, but it was all a bit too late. Both ends of the Roman line had broken and the centre was a bit of a mess. The Armenians were sitting at 10 breakpoints out of 23 - the Romans reached 30 breakpoints, breaching their threshold of 24, and decided that they probably didn't want Mesopotamia anyway... 

So, as the court readies itself to return to Tigranokerta and messengers ride off to prepare for the victory celebrations, I think there may be a few lessons to be learned (Andrew...):

  • Don't think that skirmishers can hide from javelineers just because there's a bit of rough ground. Those places are kind of a javelineer's playground;
  • Don't allow yourself to be outflanked by cataphracts;
  • Even legionaries don't like being hit in the flanks;
  • When Tyche thinks the other guy is better looking, you've got no chance - regardless of how sound your strategy may have looked to begin with ...