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 ... 

Monday 22 April 2019

Sunny Sunday gaming

Taking advantage of some much-needed downtime, I introduced JB to Ganesha Games' Of Armies and Hordes and PSC Games' Battle Ravens over the Easter weekend.

JB brought his huge 10mm dark elf collection and trimmed out 1500 points worth of pointy wee b@stards to harass my halflings for our first game of the day. We set up the table with about 32 areas, sticking to relatively simple open terrain, light woods, hills, marsh, ruins, a burial ground and a village.  

Feeling viscous, the dark elf wolf pack went straight for the village in the first turn. They encountered 10 stands of villagers who they overran quite easily, but not without suffering casualties themselves.

The halfling artillery on the hilltop - first time I've used artillery and it seemed pretty effective -  bombarded the village, killing more wolves, before the halfling militia marched in and dispatched the last of them. In the distance the treefolk explored some ruins and discovered an poorly concealed and undefended treasure, while the artillery continued to bombard dark elves at every opportunity.

It ended up being a pretty one-sided affair I'm afraid, and the dark elves were driven off the table quite quickly once we got going. That is kind of true to form when these two armies meet - regardless of the rule system. OAaH worked pretty well again, but there were certainly a few of times when we questioned how on earth JB was supposed to remove me from the defensive positions I had holed-up in...

We then got in a very enjoyable game of Battle Ravens. Much more a board game, it is simple to pick up, but can be really quite challenging. We stretched the game out until there were very few men left in either shieldwall, and then my poor Saxons collapsed in a flood of vicious vikings. I have a Scottish army in the box unused, so I may have to give that a try some day soon.

Friday 19 April 2019

Review of Osprey's Men of Bronze

I was really excited to get my copy of Men of Bronze by Eric Farrington (EF) yesterday, on the day of release. These are small scale battle rules for hoplite warfare in the Archaic and Classical periods. I love rules designated for specific periods as they tend to bring a lot more flavour to the games. I was excited by these rules given the period in question – essentially, these rules allow players to field relatively small armies (five to eight units in a recommended game) to resolve differences between Greek poleis and their neighbours. Indeed, I started a new 10mm Classical project in anticipation.

However, this is a bit of a tricky review for me to write as I am both a wargamer, and a classicist; a game designer and an academic. Overwhelmingly I find myself appreciating the very neat game mechanics that EF has brought to the table, but I’m also distracted by my beardiness.

Lets get those distracting niggles out of the way first… Some of the grammar is rather clumsy and the manuscript would have benefited from further proofing in this regard.

EF repeatedly uses ‘phalanges’ as the plural form of phalanx. Phalanges are finger and toe bones. The plural of phalanx is phalanxes. Few rule sets are without issues like this – I’ve been mortified to find I’ve done similar things myself – but it’s still annoying.

EF speaks of Greek hoplites using a bronze sword and at one point refers to the period as a Bronze Age.

EF claims that Tarantines rather than Thessalians were the most famous Greek horsemen of the Archaic-Classical period, while later referring to Thessalians as skirmishing hill tribes.

On the topic of horses – the Athenian army list permits a huge amount of cavalry (up to three units). EF rightly points out that Athenians could field 1,000 cavalry, but omits to mention that those numbers were the total for the state, were rarely all deployed together, and still existed in a ratio of 10:1 hoplites to hippeis – not dissimilar proportions to many other states but less than most of their northern neighbours. The Theban army list has access to less cavalry than the Athenians, and if you want non-Theban Boiotians you are restricted further.

While griping about the army lists, EF seems to have drawn a diagonal line across the city of Thebes and ignored all Greek (and semi-Greek) states to the north or west. There is no Thessalian list allowing cavalry-heavy armies (you could use the Athenian list I suppose). There is no list to allow the psiloi/peltast-heavy armies of Aitolia, Arkanania, Phokis, or the Epeirote kingdoms. There are no Macedonians before the reforms of Philip II combining fine heavy cavalry, rubbish infantry, and a few hoplites. There are no lists for the Greeks states of Magna Graeca, where you might also find more peltasts and drilled infantry alongside hoplites and light cavalry. The army lists are the biggest disappointment, because all these forces took part in the Peloponnesian Wars at the heart of the game’s chronology.

There seems to be a point cost discrepancy between warband infantry and peltasts. The two unit types have similar stat lines, except that peltasts have more courage and are more disciplined. Peltasts can also throw javelins, move and shoot, evade and do a few other things. Peltasts only cost 4 points for a unit, but warbands cost 6…

I have noted these down as ‘distracting niggles’ because that is what they are – distractions. They distract from a good rule set with lots of flavour. So let us look at some of the good bits:

The rules are entirely scale and basing agnostic. That means that you can have individually based 28mm figures – as EF uses throughout the illustrations – or multi-based figures of any scale. There is no individual figure removal which is a huge plus in my books.

There are a really nice range of units available. There are four different grades of hoplites, a Philippic Macedonian pike phalanx, three grades of non-hoplite ‘infantry’, three types of shooty missile infantry and two grades of cavalry. That means that a player’s force is unlikely to be identical to their opponent’s.

Although I have grumbled about the army lists, there is a note on p.6 about house rules saying they are actively encouraged if the players see fit (and can agree). Ultimately that means that a player can field an army list that is not otherwise listed provided everyone is happy enough. EF has also noted this on a thread over at the Lead Adventures Forum – as well as mentioning that there might be a future free pdf produced with additional lists. This is certainly something I would encourage. In the interim, players not wanting to do piles of research themselves could just consult lists from other games like DBA (example lists from v2.2 below), DBM or L'Art de la Guerre.

The core rules of Men of Bronze are pretty straight forward – when you activate a unit it usually either moves, or shoots, or fights. This is not a game where each unit will do all three actions in a turn, which means that play moves quickly between players.

An innovation in the rules are ‘Arete points’. These are sort of like ‘leadership points’ in Dan Mersey’s Dux Bellorum, but a little more nuanced. The number of Arete points available to the army are directly linked to the number of units in an army. They can be spent to start a turn with the initiative, or to seize the initiative from your opponent mid-turn. They allow units with special traits to use those traits (i.e. form a phalanx, move and shoot, counter charge etc), as well as permitting any unit to conduct a double-distance charge where they can move and fight in the same turn. Unspent Arete points can be used to re-roll dice at any point in the game

Hoplites in a phalanx formation are tough but unmanoeuvrable. They can break into open order at any time, but it’ll cost an Arete point to get them back into formation again. In melee, there are rules to simulate the shoving match of the ‘othismos’ the scrum between rival phalanxes.

The inclusion of ‘Advanced Rules’ are where Men of Bronze really shine however. These are certainly not too complex that an experienced gamer wouldn’t incorporate all or some into the game from the offset. They include things like the death of unit commanders and missile troops being able to shoot over the heads of your own troops, but with a risk of stray arrows falling on their heads. There is a rule for phalanx drift, where phalanxes naturally drifted to the right during an advance. These are all really flavourful.

Another flavourful aspect are the 'Complications'. These are battlefield condition that may occur randomly such as one side making a dawn attack, receiving bad omens, having thirsty soldiers or having a herd of goats loose in the middle of the battlefield getting underfoot.

All in all, I think the mechanics of Men of Bronze are really nice and I can’t wait to get stuck in. The niggles are niggly, and take away from what could have been a splendid book, but they should not get in the way of a fun set of clever rules for gaming battles between Greeks, other Greeks, and their neighbours.

Thursday 18 April 2019

10mm steppe goblins and ogres

Following on from the goblin wolf riders I showed at the end of last month, here is the start of a small steppe goblin army. These fabulous 10mm sculpts are styled as steppe goblins (conveniently), produced and sold by Polar Fox Studio in Siberia. They come in packs of 30 cast on strips five wide. There is a random command strip and then a selection of other strips - there must be 15 unique sculpts in each pack. 

The variation is quite impressive for a small range, and they really fit well with the feel of the Warmaster wolf riders with a similar Hun-inspired aesthetic. They are very characterful and therefore a bit of a bugger to paint. The end result is fantastic though.

This wee chap is a Polar Fox steppe goblin shaman or sorcerer.

In support I have some steppe ogres. These are actually 15mm orcs from Magister Militum, but their equipment is also a bit Hunnic in feel - well, some of their hats anyway - and they fit well with the 10mm goblins. 

Here is the mini-horde to date. Another group of goblins, an assassin and a giant still to go before my initial plans are done.

Saturday 13 April 2019

Palaeo Diet: The Tribe

Paul Field over at Blind Beggar Miniatures recently approached me to ask permission to sculpt a prehistoric tribe based on the illustrations by Orestix in my Palaeo Diet: Eat or be Eaten rules. Permission duly granted, Paul has sculpted and cast six prehistoric hunters with comic, characterful, over-sized, interchangeable heads (and a hound). 

He's launched these as a Kickstarter which has already funded, so do go check them out. The hound is a stretch goal, and a Captain Mancave sculpt (unrelated, but usable) looks to be an optional add-on.