Tuesday 27 November 2018

10mm Hoplites

I have now finished my first unit of 10mm hoplites. These are the earlier hoplites from Magister Militum. In the Men of Bronze rules, there is supposed to be a 'leader' figure to act as a measuring/line of sight point. Because the polemarch of a phalanx is supposed to be in the front right of the formation, I've gone with a sacrificing priest out front as the marker. 

These hoplites are intended - initially at least - as 'Macedonians'. Or, rather, Greeks from cities in Macedonia. Or Greek mercenaries in Macedonia. All of these seem to have been a feature - if a minor one - of Macedonian armies from the reign of Perdikkas II (454-413 BC); even the Highland Macedonian kingdom of Lynkos seems to have had access to hoplites.

"Brasidas and Perdiccas started on a second joint expedition into Lyncus against Arrhabaeus; the latter with the forces of his Macedonian subjects, and a corps of heavy infantry (ὁπλίτας) composed of Hellenes domiciled in the country; the former with the Peloponnesians whom he still had with him and the Chalcidians, Acanthians, and the rest in such force as they were able. In all there were about three thousand Hellenic heavy infantry, accompanied by all the Macedonian cavalry with the Chalcidians, near one thousand strong, besides an immense crowd of barbarians ... After this the Lyncestian heavy infantry (ὁπλιτῶν) advanced from their hill to join their cavalry and offered battle ..."
Thucydides 4.124.1-3

Perdikkas' son Archelaos (413-399 BC) appears to have also made use of hoplites: "Of these there was no great number, most of those now found in the country having been erected subsequently by Archelaus, the son of Perdiccas, on his accession, who also cut straight roads, and otherwise put the kingdom on a better footing as regards horses, heavy infantry (ὅπλοις), and other war material than had been done by all the eight kings that preceded him."
Thucydides 2.100.2

A rather confusing reference in Anaximenes (FGrH 72 f4) states that 'Alexander' organised the Macedonian infantry and gave then the title pezhetairoi (foot companions). However, it is unclear whether he means Alexander I, Alexander II or Alexander III. If the firat Alexander, that would implying that regular Macedonian infantry (hoplites?) existed from the early fifth century BC. Alexander II reigned only briefly (371-369) and therefore seems seems an unlikely reformer, and Alexander III inherited Philip II's already reformed army. 

For this Greco-Macedonian phalanx, then I went with a lot of Argead stars/suns and horsey themes, with a liberal mix of other more generic stuff on the shields. As a first attempt at free handing 10mm hoplons, I'm happy with the way they turned out.

Saturday 17 November 2018

Dux Bellorum beyond the Foyle

Happily ensconced on the Foyleside, we got in a quick and bloody game of Dux Bellorum. Lee led my Angles in their first game - a force consisting of warrior companions, one warband of noble warriors,  five warbands of ordinary warriors and some bow-armed skirmishers. The Angles took javelins for their warriors as a stratagem. I was the aggressor with a much smaller force of Ulstermen - warrior companions, four warbands of noble warriors, and some riders. I invested in two additional leadership points as a stratagem. As a result, although the Angles had the numbers, the army of Ulstermen were both better trained and better led.

The Angles deployed in a long line behind a muddy stream, their nobles and leaders in the center of the line, and the skirmishers at their extreme left. The Irish were spread out more with the companions second from the left, and the riders on the extreme right. 

In the opening turn, both armies made haphazard advances. One Germanic warband in particular struggled to make their way out of the river while the rest of the Angle warriors formed up in two new blocks. The Irish riders decided they didn't want to let the Anglian archers fire away at them as they negotiated the river and made a daring sweep between the closing lines outflank the Angles on the Irish left. 

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way and the riders were caught by the howling Anglian warriors. The Irish king then threw himself forward to help extract them, and the supporting noble warriors did the same. The noble warriors of the Irish centre were outside of charge range, and so held back, while the right-most Irish warband flung themselves across the river into the Anglian skirmishers.

Despite their ferocious charge, the Ulster noble warriors only managed to inflict a single cohesion loss on the skirmishers!

As the Angles in the centre moved forward, the last uncommitted Ulster warriors charged into them. Over on the left flank, the Irish riders managed to pull out of the melee and negotiated their way back around the left flank. After a second round of combat, the Irish noble warriors managed to disperse the skirmishing Angles. 

The Irish riders charged back into the fray - now on their own terms - and the Irish noble warriors in the river shoved past the floating corpses of fallen archers to charge the Anglian warriors (still stuck in the muddy river) in the flank. In the centre, the Irish king was more than holding his own, resisting the attacks of the Anglian earl, and focusing his own attacks against the much more fragile common warriors. Everywhere, the Irish nobles were getting the better of the melee, although they were still outnumbered and there was always a chance that numbers would eventually tell.
But ultimately it was too late for numbers alone. Over two rounds of combat, the Irish riders, and then most of the Anglian warriors fled from the field of slaughter. Only three warbands still stood facing the Ulstermen, and those were spread out across a wide area.

The Ulstermen started encircling the Anglian earl and his companions to deliver the coup de grâce, the amphibious melee in the river ended in the Irishmen's favour and the Angles were routed. As the sodden warriors fled, the heart went out of their countrymen's fight and the last of the Angles pulled back to lick their wounds. 

We'd never played a game between two warrior armies before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. A lot of wild charges probably. Well, we got that sure enough. Happily, although both forces were warrior-based, they were actually quite distinct. With their aggression and cohesion ratings of 6, I reasoned that the Irish were both savage and resilient enough that all those extra LPs could be spent on blocking hits rather than increasing their attacks. Meanwhile, Lee threw all (as in every single one) of his LPs into his attacks. The outcome: my noble warriors shrugged off a lot of potential damage, while the less resilient common Angle warriors were cut to pieces. Another fun game of a cracking little rule set.

Blood Sweat and Cheers beyond the Foyle

This week I found myself gaming with Lee on the far side of the River Foyle. We started off the evening with a couple of quick introductory gladiator bouts using Blood Swear and Cheers. In the first bout, despite being wounded early on, my thraex managed to get the better of Lee's murmillo, tripped him up, and then delivered a telling blow. The crowd favoured both gladiators equally, and were happy enough to allow the bleeding murmillo to walk out of the arena to entertain them another day.

The second bout saw Lee's dimachaerus take on my sagittarius. The sagittarius is always a tricky gladiator to use; his melee attack is so weak and he doesn't tend to do well going toe-to-toe. The crowd, however, loved watching him slip past the dimachaerus multiple times, popping off shots with his bow from a distance as his opponent lumbered after him, swatting away the arrows with deft parries. In short order, both gladiators were staining the sand red from multiple wound, but in the end  it was Lee's dimachaerus who was more skilled, and the sagittarius was taken down. The crowd enjoyed his antics so much that they were happy for him to carried away to the infirmary - there to be tended back to full health by a decent Greek doctor and a myriad of beautiful Syrian slaves.

Friday 9 November 2018

Another wee dvergr

Most readers of this blog will know that I don't do a lot of 28mm (AKA novelty-giant-scale) stuff. None, in fact, with the exception of my forces for Of Gods and Mortals. After my recent 6mm push, it was a nice break to paint up another dvergr (dwarf) for my very slowly growing Norse force.

This wee chap is from Macrocosm Miniatures, converted with a few medieval plastic bow and arrow bits gifted by gaming mate Jim, and a hand axe and quiver from Hasslefree Miniatures, and some modeling putty to fill out the hair at the back of his head.

And here he is with the rest of the dvergar to date - and also that cheeky chappy Ratatoskr. I have another four dvergar to do still, but next up in line for my Norse will be more jötnar to flesh out my unit of elite trolls.

Sunday 4 November 2018

Battle Ravens review

War rages in Viking Age Britain (the ninth to eleventh centuries AD). Two opposing armies – Anglo-Saxon and Norse shieldwalls – are about to come into contact. Arrows will fly overhead; spears will jab out from behind shields; swords and knives will hack at the legs and fleetingly-glimpsed faces of the enemy; and both sides will attempt to shove one another back. When a gap opens – a warrior has recoiled from a heavy blow or has fallen wounded – your warriors will surge through, breaking their enemy’s tightly formed line of shields, and cutting and stabbing their way to victory. Above the chaos and fear swoop ravens, waiting impatiently to feast on the war carrion.

I was really honoured recently when Dan Mersey - author of Song of Arthur and Merlin, Dux Bellorum, Lion Rampant and more - approached me to do a review of his new game, Battle Ravens. Unlike his previous games, this one is a boardgame rather than a miniatures game. Like all of his games, the rules are relatively simple but elegantly managed: the game board is divided into twelve zones (two rows of six) which represent two armies in shieldwall formation. To win, your warriors must capture three of the enemy's six areas. Who was I to say no to such an offer?

The game is published by PSC Games and will initially be made available through a Kickstarter launching 20th November 2018, at £30 (including three armies) with an estimated release date in April 2019. The full retail price will be set at £35.

[edit] The Kickstarter can be found HERE [end edit]

The game is designed for two players, (they suggest an age range of 14+), and games are designed to last 45-60 minutes.

The rules - I was sent a link to a digital preview before I got my hands on a hard copy - are beautifully, if simply, presented. As usual, Dan shows that he is really familiar and comfortable with this period. The game is notionally set in the 'Dark Ages' - or Early Medieval period to the enlightened gamer - although the artwork puts it pretty firmly in the 11th century. The rules are splashed with characterful language which is nevertheless easily understood, and quotes from various sagas and annals appear throughout.

And thus, (surprisingly quickly), PSC Games sent me my preview copy and I set about the unboxing with delight. What I received was a pre-production copy which includes some of the upgrades that will hopefully be unlocked during the Kickstarter. All of my comments relate to this pre-production copy and not the final release.

Inside the box were a 20 page rule book, a beautifully finished mounted board, four thick card punch boards with all the units and raven tokens needed for two armies, 78 plastic clip-on stands for the units, nine dice and 20 Tactics Cards.

Here is the board opened up - with a water bottle thrown in for scale. You can see that there are twelve zones for the battle, six occupied by each player at the start of the game, and a little reserve zone for placing your reserve of bow-armed thralls. The mounted board in my pre-production copy of the game has a lovely finish to it, and the artwork is certainly atmospheric.

The dice are lovely and chunky (15mm) and have a great weight to them. I believe five come as part of the basic game, but that a Kickstarter stretch goal will boost that up to the nine that I received.

The Tactics Cards are also intended to be a Kickstarter stretch goal. Each faction has their own unique set of cards and, if using them (they are not necessary), they will really differentiate the forces under your command. There are 10 cards per faction. Each player randomly selects five of their army’s cards at the start of each game. This allows both players to choose the same army, should they wish to, taking five random cards each. The cards are professionally produced and poker-sized, with clear instructions as to whom can use them, and when.

The pre-production copy of the game I received contained two Anglo-Saxon punch boards, and two Norse punch boards which provide each army with 18 hirdmen units, 18 bondi units, four groups of thralls (one of which is superfluous) and 20 raven counters.

Three other factions will also be available, each with their own artwork and Tactics Cards - Normans, Welsh and Scots. The Scots will be included free in the core game during the Kickstarter, while the others will be available as add-on purchases.

Each unit is double sided - showing front and back - and has the faction name and unit type written at the bottom of the piece. They clip firmly into clear plastic stands allowing them to sit upright.

While the Norse and the Anglo-Saxons have unique artwork to differentiate them, both have a white background. I wonder whether it would be a little easier for players if there were different coloured strips at the bottom (where the faction and unit name is written) to further differentiate them. That would certainly make it easier to identify the two forces for beginners.

Out of the 80 units I punched out of the boards, I only had a single casualty - and that was quite minor. The bow on one of my thralls started to de-laminate. It is not a big deal as there are two spare thralls, and if there were not, it is nothing a spot of glue wouldn't fix. Perhaps something for PSC Games to be aware of though.
Here are all the components - including 78 units with their plastic bases attached - in the box. They certainly fill the box as it is, so I don't know how you would fit more armies unless they came in their own box, or the final box was made bigger, or you unclipped all the bases. Now, each unit is pretty robust, but I suspect clipping and unclipping the bases each game would eventually have a detrimental affect on the units, not to mention being a bit time consuming, but I guess I'll have to wait and see what decisions they end up taking.

We played two games before writing up this review. The first took just over an hour, including the setup and a quick summary of the rules to my opponent, Brett. We didn't use the Tactics Cards in the first game, so the two sides handled exactly the same way. The photo above shows the game board at the end of the first raven placement. The game looks great - it would be even better with miniatures, but the card counters give a nice mass effect.

This next shot shows the two shieldwalls after raven placement at the start of turn four - ie, after three turns of pretty brutal culling. The basic premise sees three different aspects of play: warriors (a mix of two hit point hirdmen and one hit point bondi), thralls (allowing rerolls on attacks), and ravens. While your warriors are really the capacity of your shieldwall to soak up enemy attacks, it is the ravens (placed by the player in the areas where the action is to be the most fierce in the turn) that determine how aggressively the warriors fight. 

Effectively, the game rewards good resource management (shifting your warriors around the shieldwall to strengthen weak points), and out-thinking your opposing warlord. As mentioned above, to win you need to capture three of the six enemy zones. Above, the photo shows the end of our first game. Brett, leading the Norse to slaughter, took a single zone of my shieldwall, while my Anglo-Saxons managed to punch through and capture the three zones required for victory.

Our second game was quite a bit faster - around 40 minutes. We used the Tactics Cards in the second game and found them intuitive to use and full of period flavour. The Norse cards really push the idea of brutal raiders while the Anglo-Saxon cards focus more on defence.

We both really enjoyed our games. Battle Ravens is an easy to learn rule set which feels like a shieldwall game should. There are some really challenging decisions to make and you do feel (sort of) like a warlord frantically trying to shore up your flagging shieldwall, while encouraging your warriors to great feats worthy of the sagas.

Donnybrook for FIW?

We tried out the Donnybrook rules for the French and Indian War this week. While the rules seem to have an awful lot going for them, we were not convinced that there was enough mid-18th century, North American theatre, flavour in the rules. They feel like they would be great with a bunch of scurvy buccaneers, but for this sort of conflict, maybe not.

Saturday 3 November 2018

Whom shall we smite today sire?

This is an update of a list I worked out out a while back of which l'Art de la Guerre armies I can run from my 6mm collection. I'm sure I can do others, but these are the ones I'm interested in enough to run from the figures in the war chest.

30. Minoans
12. Libyan, 14. New Kingdom Egyptians, 20. Hittites, 22. Syria, Canaan and Ugarit, 24. Sea Peoples, 30. Mycenaean

39. Alexandrian Macedonian
33. Celts, 58. Kyrenian Greek, 60. Classical Greek, 62. Illyrian, 63. Thracian, 64. Achaemenid Persian, 66. Lykian, 68. Late Achaemenid Persian, 75. Early Arab, 76. Scythian

40. Alexander the Great
75. Early Arab, 76. Scythian, 79. Classical Indian

42. Seleukids
41. Early Successor, 42. Seleukid, 43. Ptolemaic, 53. Republican Roman, 61. Hellenistic Greek, 63. Thracian, 67. Bithynian, 69. Kappadokian, 71. Armenian, 72. Galatian, 73. Pergamon, 74. Aramaean, 75. Early Arab, 76. Skythian, 79. Classical Indian, 102. Parthian, 103. Judaean Jewish, 104. Kommagene

44. Pyrrhic
41. Early Successor, 51. Campanian, Lucanian, Apulian and Bruttian, 52. Camillan Roman, 54. Early Carthaginian, 60. Classical Greek, 61. Hellenistic Greek, 62. Illyrian, 63, Thracian, 72 Galatian

47. Samnites (100 points)
47. Italian Tribes, 48. Etruscan, 49. Tullian Roman, 50. Syracusan, 51. Campanian, Lucanian, Apulian and Bruttian, 52. Camillan Roman, 54. Early Carthaginian, 60. Classical Greek

53. Republican Romans
33. Celts, 42. Seleukid, 50. Syracusan, 51. Campanian, Lucanian, Apulian and Bruttian, 54. Early Carthaginian, 55. Carthaginian, 56. Numidian, 61. Hellenistic Greek, 62. Illyrian, 63. Thracian

71. Armenian
42. Seleukid, 69. Kappadokian, 71. Armenian, 74 Aramaean, 82. Triumvirate Roman, 102. Parthian, 103. Judaean Jewish, 104. Kommagene, 105 Mithridatic

74. Ituraean
42. Seleukid, 43. Ptolemaic, 71. Armenian, 74 Aramaean, 75. Early Arab, 82. Triumvirate Roman, 102. Parthian, 103. Judaean Jewish

75. Early Arab (100 points)
42. Seleukid, 43. Ptolemaic, 71. Armenian, 74 Aramaean, 75. Early Arab, 82. Triumvirate Roman, 102. Parthian, 103. Judaean Jewish, 104. Kommagene

104. Kommagene
42. Seleukid, 69. Kappadokian, 71. Armenian, 72 Galatian, 73, Pergamon, 74 Aramaean, 75 Early Arab, 82. Triumvirate Roman, 84 Early Imperial Roman, 102. Parthian,

105. Mithridatic
63, Thracian, 67. Bithynian, 69. Kappadokian, 71 Armenian, 72 Galatian, 82. Triumvirate Roman

107. Kushan
79. Classical Indian, 81. Ch’iang and Ti, 102. Parthian, 107. Kushan, 117 Han Chinese

178. Anglo-Irish
177. Feudal Scots, 178. Anglo-Irish, 179. Scots Isles and Highlanders, 222. Medieval Scots, 223. Medieval Irish, 225. Hundred Years War English

225. Hundred Years War English
178. Anglo-Irish, 179. Scots Isles and Highlanders, 222. Medieval Scots, 223. Medieval Irish, 226. Hundred Years War French, 228. Medieval Spanish, 229. Navarrese, 231. Burgundian, 232. Low Countries, 233. Medieval Welsh

236. Yorkists
178. Anglo-Irish, 179. Scots Isles and Highlanders, 222. Medieval Scots, 223. Medieval Irish, 231. Burgundian, 232. Low Countries, 234. French Ordonnance, 235 Burgundian Ordonnance, 236. Wars of the Roses

6mm reinforcements

Over the last couple of months I have been slowly finishing off the last 6mm ancient units in my painting queue. with these last reinforcements I can field even more l'Art de la Guerre armies, and should we return to Hail Caesar for 6mm gaming, sure, these guys will help out too.

First up are three units of Baccus Thessalian heavy cavalry. I've put these in wedge formations to act as either Macedonian companions or early Hellenistic sarissaphoroi. They will certainly see service under Philip II and Alexander III of Macedon, Pyrrhos of Epeiros, or Seleukos I.

Then we have two units of light infantry with javelins. They are Baccus Greek peltasts but can be used as either generic psiloi or as elite Agrianians under Philip II or Alexander.

These Rapier Roman triarii and velites will allow me to use my existing 'imitation legionaries' as hastatii and principes and field a Polybian legion. Republican Romans - here we come! Of course, I also needed a suitably grumpy chap on a white horse to lead them - also from Rapier. 

Lastly (for now?) - Rapier Early Imperial Roman archers to use as Aramaeans (my Ituraeans) - also backed up with a new command stand because... well, why ever not.

Now I need to go back, update my 'who can I kill' file with new enemies. 😈