Friday 29 November 2013

The Battle of Glenavia (or ROMANES EVNT DOMVS) - Hail Caesar in 6mm

Note that this post is picture heavy and may not be suitable for work computers (NSFW) or slower connections. Of course if you are reading this, you've already clicked on the link and it may be too late...

This week saw the invasion of the Seleukid highland satarapy of Glenavia by the loathful lowland Romans. Although the general consensus around our way is that the points system in Hail Caesar is not necessarily capable of producing evenly matched games - the system was never intended for competition play - both forces were composed of roughly 330 points arranged in three divisions.  Why 330 points you ask? Because that is what I currently have painted and it allowed me to run a Seleukid army without any substitutions for the first time.

"All trees present and accounted for sir!" The Seleukid crown prince aids in preparing the battlefield.

The forced assemble and deploy - Seleukids screen left, Romans screen right.

The Romans:
Left - One Roman legion composed of two units each of velites, hastatii, principes and a unit of triarii. They were led by the army general, Brettius Hodgosus.
Centre - Mounted division composed of one unit each of Roman equites, Italian cavalry and two units of nubile Numidians. Their divisional commander was no doubt of noble birth but history has forgotten his name.
Right - Allied division composed of two units of Italians fighting as legionaries and a unit of Italian hoplites. The leader of the Italians has likewise escaped the notice of historians.

The Seleukids:
Right - The royal cavalry division composed of one unit of elite agema cavalry, two units of heavy xystophoroi cavalry and a unit of light Tarantine cavalry. The right was, as usual, led by King Antiochos personally.
Centre - The royal infantry division composed of one unit each of elite agyraspid pikemen, light infantry archers, Kilikians, Cretan skirmishers, skirmishing slingers and armoured elephants. I'm sure their divisional commander had a Greek name. Lets call him Nikolaos.
Left - Arab auxiliaries composed of one unit each of light cavalry, camelry and light infantry. They were led by a local sheikh known to the court as Zabinas the Arab.

The opening turn saw the nubile Numidians flying across the table to screen the Roman advance.

The Seleukid line watches stoically as the Roman war machine stirs to life.

The Seleukid right and centre surge forward into the plain, tying to broaden their front to engulf the enemy. There was obviously a bit of a language barrier between the commander-in-chief and Zabinas the Arab as the left wing stood around discussing the merits of tea. The photo also makes it clear that the language gap between Latin and Oscan was wider than previously thought as the Italian command on the Roman right likewise had problems advancing.

Zabinas finally gets a move on and heads towards the Numidian horsemen.

The Seleukid line continues a steady advance while the Roman legion out paces its colleagues to the right. The enjoys-a-good-shooting-session half (otherwise known as the left) of the Seleukid line punish the Numidians for coming too close and the sly devils are forced to withdraw.

The Tarantine horse on the Seleukid right trot forward and pepper the legionaries with javelins, attempting to slow up their advance while the rest of the Seleukid cavalry formed up in front of the town.

Roman principes and triarii advance to engage the enemy to their front. The brave Tarentines counter-charge to slow them up for a turn, buying essential time for the Seleukid right.

Meanwhile, the two units of hastatii, supported by velites assault the Seleukid agyraspid pikemen and xystophoroi heavy cavalry. The sacrifice of the Tarentines becomes clearer in the bigger picture as their decision to evade would have seen the Seleukid xystophoroi chewed up and spat out by four Roman units.

Instead, the Tarentines break and run, but so do the hastatii fighting against the Seleukid heavy cavalry.

On the Seleukid left, the Arabs start moving into the woods, hoping to assault the Italians on the flank. Luckily the Italian advance was so slow that the sloppy maneuvering of the Seleukid left did not cause too much of a problem.

The Seleukid phalanx forces back the hastatii and velites to their front and as they follow up, are counter attacked by Roman principes supported by Italian horse. On the Seleukid right the heavy cavalry finally forms up, while on the Roman right, the Italians eventually make an appearance. The Arab lights continue to fail to understand that they are requested to go into the woods, not just sit outside them.

The Seleukid elephant-phalanx combo drives back the Romans to their front, routing the principes and shaking and disordering the other units. The Seleukid bow armed lights move forward to reform the central battle line. Two of the Seleukid xystophoroi units start towards the Roman extreme left but do not quite close the gap.

The Italians form a solid line on the Roman right, hoping to punch right through the weak Seleukid archers. However, supported by the elephant corp and Kilikian lights, the archers amazingly hold firm.

On the Roman left, the onslaught of the principes and triarii is too much and one unit of Seleukid heavy cavalry routs while the other is forced back disordered.

Zabinas and Nikolaos got there divisions into a solid (well, almost see-through really) line. Plugging the gaps with light infantry and backing these up with light cavalry and camelry. Nikolaos rallies the archers while Antiochos chats with his xystophoroi about the unhappy consequences of their actions if they choose the withdraw again.

Amazingly, and at great cost, the Seleukid left repulses the Italian attack. The principes and triaii on the Roman left try to assault the worn xystophoroi but do not quite make it into melee, allowing the xystophoroi - led by the king - to counter-charge, hitting the principes alone. The latter collapse in a groaning heap but leave the Seleukid horse in a bad way.

The elite agema cavalry on the Seleukid right seize the opportunity to hit the triarii in the flank.

The Roman veteran infantry crumple on impact and the agema perform a sweeping advance, further obliterating the Italian cavalry.

On their commanders' respective orders, the light infantry unleashed a rain of arrows, sling stones and pointy sticks, driving back the Italian infantry further.

By this stage, the Roman invaders had had enough. With the loss of the triarii and Italian cavalry, both the Roman left and centre collapsed, leaving the Italians on the left with no viable option but to withdraw.

Despite how the photos and write up make it seem, the battle was actually quite a close run thing with several moments throughout where it looked like either of us could have lost. However, as history is written by the victor, I have had the dubious privilege of trying to recall the events of a fantastically fun evening. I am sure we will have a rematch soon enough - and it looks like there will be some Carthaginians joining the fray in the not too distant future. Huzzah for a most enjoyable project!

Thursday 28 November 2013

6mm Hail Caesar - Arabs in the service of Antiochos the Great King.

From the limited sources available to us regarding the composition of the Seleukid army, and the details are sketchy despite what some wargaming army lists would have us believe, it is clear that at least some Seleukid kings and generals made use of irregular fighters from the desert frontiers of Syria and Mesopotamia.

Roman denarius depicting the supplication of the Nabataean king Aretas III - with camel
Antiochos III is reported to have fielded a unit Arabs at the battle of Raphia in 217 BC. According to Polybius, the Arabs and neighbouring tribes numbered about ten thousand and were commanded by Zabdibelus. Considering the entire Seleukid infantry - among whom the Arabs are list - at Raphia only (only!) numbered 58,000, the Arab contingent amounted to 17.24% of the manpower. Such a total is almost unheard of in wargaming army lists and that is where the joy of Hail Caesar's approach come in. If you want Arabs, you can have them.

McBride painting of Iron Age Arab camelry
Twenty-six years later, we find an undisclosed number of Arabs fighting from camel-back at the battle of Magnesia (191 BC). Appian and Livy both provide limited details about these forces. At magnesia they were specified as archers who also carried a long sword for melee. Their position in the battle, screning the left wing cavalry suggests that they served as mounted skirmishers and that the sword was intended as a worst-case-scenario tool rather than part of their principal kit. 

McBride painting of Roman period Camelry
Neither Livy nor Appian tell us about the armour, if any, used by this force. According to Herodotus, the Arabian camelry who fought during the Greco-Persian wars were armoured (and possibly armed) in the same manner as their infantry archers; this means that they wore a long, thick robe with a girdle. However, the Roman period sculptural representations from Dura-Europos show a Palmyrene camelryman wearing a cuirass, trousers, and either a knee-length boot or an ankle boot and greaves. The Dura rider carries a small round shield and a quiver.

Cavalry of the 1916 Arab Revolt
20th century (Arab Revolt?) Arab camelry
But who were these so-called Arabs? The short answer is that it is impossible to say. Recent scholarship on the ancient use of the term, ‘Arab’, suggests that the designation should be read as a malleable label applied to multiple different groups who maintained a similar lifestyle - that is to say, a nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life or deriving from populations who lived in such a way in the past. For anyone interested enough to chase this up, I'd recommend M.C.A. MacDonald, ‘“Les Arabes en Syrie” or “La pénétration des Arabes en Syrie”: a question of perceptions?’, Topoi suppl. 4 (2003) and J. Retsö, The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads (Abingdon, 2003). Unhelpfully enough, classical authors also use tribal names for some groups known to fall into this classification without specifically calling the groups Arabs, and sometimes use alternative terms such as 'Skenitai' meaning tent-dweller.

The Palmyrene god Arsu
Arabs, how to you represent yours? One of the downfalls of 6mm gaming is that you are somewhat restricted in your choice of models and that variety is not always available in your chosen range. My Seleukids are composed of both Baccus and Rapier figures which as I have said before, tend to mix well. Ancient Arabs do not exist in these ranges. Only Rapier produce ancient camelry - for their Persian range - and while nice, they are quite small. They are camel archers but with a driver and an archer mounted pillion which occurs in Bronze Age and Iron Age depictions, but seems to have escaped the notice of Classical authors so may have fallen out of use by the Hellenistic period. Baccus produce lovely 19th century Mahdists which are perhaps the most wonderful 6mm figures I've ever painted and these include camelry - but armed with spears and shields, not bows.

UN Peace Keepers serving  in Eritrea
I decided to go with three 'Arab' units to add some colour and fun to my Seleukid army - one each on foot, mounted and on camels. I felt that I had to use the Rapier camel archers to represent , well, camel archers. However, I cheekily fleshed out a small unit of Arab Light infantry with a couple of Baccus Mahdist spear armed chaps. I felt that that group may have served as camel mounted infantry - and why not eh? In my own head I rationalised that not all of these so-called Arabs need look the same; my cavalry and infantry are obviously from one group (perhaps from the Syran steppe) as they are dressed similarly and both use a white and green colour scheme. The 'pure' camelry are much more your desert variety of arabs. The dress differently, fight in a different manner and prefer yellow to green. And here are the results:

Baccus Mahdist cavalry
Baccus Mahdist infantry (with camel mounts)
Rapier Persian camelry

Sunday 24 November 2013

Song of Shadows and Dust measuring sticks

Like the other Ganesha games based on the Song of ... engine, Song of Shadows and Dust uses three different measuring sticks to determine movement and ranges.

The measurements are fairly standard across the different games:
For 15mm scale or smaller models, use the following lengths: Short 50mm; Medium 80mm; Long 120mm
For larger scale models, use the following lengths: Short 75mm; Medium 120mm; Long 180mm

Initially, I used lengths of 10mm diameter dowel or 2.8mm diameter copper rod as my measuring sticks and they certainly did the job most adequately.

Eventually, then I was drawn towards the Litko Ganesha Games set which includes a triangular distance template. Litko produce these for both 15mm and 28mm scales. They also come with a range of other useful counters to mark wounds and entanglements etc. I bought the 28mm set for my Song of Blades and Heroes and Song of Arthur and Merlin games. Even though I use 10mm models for the latter, I still like to use the longer ranges.

However, when it came to Songs of Shadows and Dust, I found that I had a slight problem. I have always suffered from short articulated stumps where your common man has fingers. Don't get me wrong, they look like figers and have nails and everything else you'd expect, but they were never destined to do graceful things, like play the piano, or be a hand model for Nivea's latest skin care range. Anyway, narrow alleyways between model buildings can be slightly awkward when you have dumpy fingers trying to use measuring sticks and move models.

Early in playtesting fellow Wee Gamer, JB, made an enlightened suggestion which has proved highly successful. I attached my existing copper rod measuring sticks to little handles cut from balsa wood so that they form a T shape. I can now lower the measuring sticks into the tightest of spaces by the handles, thereby keeping my fingers out of the way.

To aid in selecting the right stick in moments of crisis I used a bit of left over house paint to mark the handles - one colour for short, two colours for medium, and three for long. Cheap, simple and effective.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Other gamer's projects to keep an eye on:

I always get a juvenile excitement when I see new gamers take an interest in my games and start a new project. I get a similar joy watching my almost three year old son make me a fajita, but that is another story.

I've recently stumbled across a couple of new projects that are worth keeping an eye on.

The Song of Blades and Heroes friendface page was recently treated with a couple of shots of Keith Finn's 15-20mm scale city for Song of Shadows and Dust. A really simple but effective use of paper mache boxes bought from a craft store. I with I had thought of that.... Keith doesn't appear to have a blog of his own, but here are the photos for those who missed them on friendface.

Secondly, Paul of Paul's Bods has been posting up more pictures of his wonderful 1:72/20mm Roman city which would put a museum display to shame. I have previously shown off some of his work here - the 1:72 scale Roman civilians/Christians, and am delighted that he is talking of using Song of Shadows and Dust to play games in his city.

Thirdly, DoctorPhalanx is starting a 15mm Irregular Wars: Conflict at the World's End project that I think will be worth following. He has a nice wee blog HERE which is well worth a gander. The Doc plans on starting with a mixed pair of 16th century Irish and Royal English forces which is grand as that is where the whole game started. It also reminds me that I still need to fix up my own Royal English...

Lastly (and a bit of a late edit), Joshua over at Le Coq Fou has just posted a lovely update showcasing his Spanish Colonial and English Adventurer battles for Irregular Wars. Joshua's stuff is always very impressive and I attach a couple of taster shots below. I must find out where his little cannon came from....

Sunday 17 November 2013

6mm Seleukids and Romans at it again

Last weekend I got a chance to have another training game of Hail Caesar under my belt. With my current painted commands (one mounted, one of light infantry) and two borrowed commands of Italians masquerading as pikemen and other cavalry.

I don't have a lot of decent shots from the evening, but here is my line a deployment. Antiochos led the right flank cavalry who performed most nobly. Even with the borrowed commands, I was out-pointed significantly - around 400 points to about 550 points. Brett brought his Romans onto the table in line of march; three heavy infantry divisions and one cavalry division.

Antiochos very quickly dismissed the Roman cavalry who lasted only slightly longer on the field of battle than it took them to march on the table. In the centre though, the infantry didn't fair quite so well. That said, my Arab light infantry and light cavalry served most honourably and stood their ground for multiple turns against great odds.

My mounted divisions on both flanks held up remarkably well against the legions of Rome. I hate to say that my elephants proved (once again) seriously underwhelming. You can see from the abundance of counters that we had a really grueling - and enjoyable - slogging match. As the sun set on the gaming table, there was a great empty hole where my centre used to be. I had lost three units of phalangites and my elite agema cavalry from the right flank. The Romans were also seriously bloodied but in a much better position to continue the battle had time allowed. We called it a bloody draw but in reality Brett was just being kind.

Next up, I have my first pike phalanx to paint along with most cavalry, slingers and some lovely camels. More pike, more Asiatic light infantry and some thorakitai medium infantry are on their way from Rapier. The Rapier service can be a bit slow, but the quality of sculpts is, to my mind, quite a bit better than Baccus. 

More updates to come but to finish off, here is a lovely Angus McBride painting of Tarantine Horse, elite mounted javelineers. Not sure why he has given them square shields as I've only every seen round shields used in depictions on South Italian red figure vases and Tarantine coinage. Still, I presume he had a decent source as his stuff was usually well researched.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Song of Shadows and Dust available as a hard copy

I'm delighted to say that that Song of Shadows and Dust is now for sale in hardcopy, currently available through

The rules come as a 42 page perfect-bound softback American letter format book.

There is a 20% off sale on all Ganesha Games products over at Lulu at the moment: just use the code CORNUCOPIA at checkout. The offer is only available until 11:59pm, November 15th.

As with all sales of the SSD rules, 50% of all author royalties will be donated to UNHRC, the United Nations body responsible for refugees fleeing war and persecution.