Monday, January 8, 2018

Somewhere in Italy, c.1040s

On Sunday we tried out a sort of 'big battle' or 'convention' variant of Lion Rampant.  Something Gabe and I have been chatting a lot about lately is trying to escape the 'Anglo-centric' orbit of a lot of wargaming – in this case it meant playing a dark ages type of game set in continental Europe and not in the British Isles.  This was pretty easy to do, since Gabe has managed to end up with a rather large collection Normans and Bretons, and the particular look of these models (nasal-helms, kite shields) is essentially universal to the European continent in the 10th and 11th centuries. 

The purpose of this "try-out" game was for Gabe to get a good inventory of all his continental figures, as well as to try out some add-ons to the Lion Rampant rules which we felt would add more continental flavor, as well represent "big battles".  For my part, I am interested in (eventually) getting into some 13th century feudal armies (Frederick II, the Guelphs and Ghibellines and all that), and this game presented opportunity to get a feel for that kind of game.
After an inventory of all the available figures, the initial set-up involves 38 points per side, consisting of the following: 
  • 2 units of mounted men at arms, each with Drilled upgrade ('Milites')
  • 3 units of mounted sergeants
  • 1 unit foot sergeants
  • 1 unit crossbowmen
  • 1 unit archers
I contributed/substituted some dark ages Scots cavalry and some time-traveling Hussite crossbowmen to bring some units up to strength.
I deployed my army (which I declared to be that of the Count of Naples) in a historical manner, with a first line of all the infantry, a second line of the mounted sergeants, and a third line of my Milites. 

Gabe (playing the Norman Hautevilles) deployed his infantry to one flank his milites and sergeants to the other.

Our rule-modifications were as follows (mainly porting over select rules from Pikeman's Lament): 
  • No figure removal.
  • Zone of control for friendly units reduced from 3" to 1" (as in Pikeman's Lament)
  • Each side had two leaders instead of one. 
  • Leaders confer a +1 to activation roles to units under their command within 12" of their unit, in addition to their regular +1 to courage checks (as in Pikeman's Lament)
  • Lion Rampant limits on number of types of units you can have are disregarded.
Scenario was loser would be first side to lose half its points worth of units.  38 points per side so magic number for both sides was 16.  The rub here was that the Milites, which are mounted men at arms with the Drilled rule (so no wild charge), are the most powerful units on the table, but also the most expensive (7 points vs. 4 of everything else) – losing even one Milites would bring your army almost half way to the breaking point!

(Above: look at those neat three lines advancing!)

With the +1 to activation rolls conferred by the leaders, both sides easily maneuvered forward.  I brought all three of my lines up neat and orderly.  Gabe incurred a few casualties on the first line with shooting and then attacked my crossbowmen with some Hautevilles mounted sergeants.  The crossbowmen lost the combat (3 casualties), but when they retreated back the sergeants in the second line were too close, and the crossbow lost 3 more as a result of not being to fall back in good order.  Then the foot sergeants in the center of the first line took some shooting damage (as a recall) and totally boffed the resulting courage check.  They fled the field (this a common occurrence for me!), and since the leader of the foot was in said unit, courage checks were incurred up and down the first line, and the Crossbows, being at -6 on such a check, also fled. The archers fell back in a Battered status.

(Above: hey, where'd that first line of infantry go?)

So just like that the entire first line completely cratered on me.  I tried to make lemonade from lemons and made it a bit interesting (mainly my Milites were able to get in and bloody up a few Hautevilles) but the archer unit repeatedly failed rally tests eventually it fled as well, which put me at 12 out of 16 points lost.  My final gambit was to have my leader's Milites attack the Hautevilles' leader's Milites and hope for a miracle. I did not get one.

(Above: End-game.)

Overall this was an entertaining and engaging game. The tactical decisions were interesting and fun, given that both sides were so cavalry-heavy, one had to constantly consider the long "reach" of those mounted units, which could easily cut horizontally across the field 10" and shift the emphasis of the game.  Some more foot sergeants would definitely enhance future games, to create a sort of anchor for each side.  As noted elsewhere, the use of a small dry-erase scoreboard, to keep track of how close exactly each side was to its breaking point, really clarifies and focuses the game (you can use the same thing for Hail Caesar, Black Powder etc.), and I highly recommend trying one out the next time you play Pikeman's Lament or Lion Rampant.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Year in Review

A good year for playing games, if little else. The number in parentheses is the count of games played. 

(1) All the Kings Men (Sudan variant)
(2) Hail Caesar (Punic Wars)
(3) Lion Rampant Battle of Clontarf (9th century Ireland)
(4) Pike & Shotte (English Civil War - Scots vs. Royalists)
(5-6) The Men Who Would Be Kings (2 games, Crimean War)
(7) Song of Arthur & Merlin (Arthurian skirmish)
(8-9) SAGA and Pikeman's Lament (Portland Historical Wargames games day @ Guardian)
(10-13) Enfilade (4 games: Hail Caesar, Pike & Shotte, Canvas Eagles, & an ancients game)
(14-15) All the Kings Men (2 games, Seven Years War)
(16-17) Saga (2 games, Portland Historical Wargames games day @ Guardian)
(18) Pikeman's Lament ('big battle' variant, Scots vs. Royalists)
(19) Black Powder (Napoleonic)
(20) Pikeman's Lament Battle of Middelwich ('big battle' variant, ECW)
(21-22) Saga (2 games, Portland Historical Wargames games day @ Guardian)
(23-26) Saga (3 games, tournament) and Hail Caesar (Romans vs. Britons)
(27) Pikeman's Lament Relief of Montgomery Castle ('big battle' variant, ECW)
(28-29) Black Powder, 'Almost the Alma' playtests (2 games, Crimean War)
(30) Guns of Liberty (AWI game at Ambuscade!)
(hosted only) Black Powder 'Almost the Alma' (hosted Crimean war game at Ambuscade!)

I played 30 games in 2017 + 1 where I only participated as the game's host.

Painting-wise 2017 was a toss-up.  I painted the majority of my Crimean War 20mm collection starting last winter, so that was a big accomplishment.  The other big to-do was a bunch of ECW cavalry, two more ECW pike units, and getting a good start on Italian Wars infantry. The ECW and Crimean work allowed me to run some good games.  But I don't feel like I made a lot of progress on the unpainted backlog, and I have a few collections that feel incomplete and unused that I feel could be more active with a concentrated effort.

I sold my entire 54mm painted Sudan and 54mm Seven Years War collections for comparatively princely sums – so I now waste a lot of time contemplating new eras to collect, paint, and game with.  My self-control is evidently much better because I have not gone through with any purchases yet, as I want to decimate the Italian Wars lead mountain first and foremost!  One very likely target is a Battle of Mount Badon project, mainly because I have about half the minis already painted (they would need to be multi-based) so the additional buy-in is comparatively low.  Other projects I have contemplated include 13th century medieval, 11th century Byzantines vs. Bulgarians, and 16th century Safavids vs. Ottomans.

The only certain goals for 2018 is the completion of two Italian Wars armies and to host a game with those armies at Enfilade in May, as well as to organize the third annual Ambuscade! gaming event here in Portland.  Other things I would like to accomplish include some selective selling of other painted figures and unpainted figures, and making a big buy-in on the Next Project, whatever it may end up being. 

Overall, a great year of gaming, both in number of games played but also a very nice variety of rules and eras-played!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Forced March

I have a large lead mountain of Italian Wars figures.  Enfilade is in May 2018.  I figure I can kill two birds with one stone, and have a game to run at Enfilade and also totally decimate my largest unpainted collection of miniatures.  Two units of pikes, two units of arquebusiers, and a unit of halberdiers, plus a mounted commander, were already completed back in June 

In late November I started three units of Landsknect pike (36 + 2 command), and as of today I am happy to say they only need their clear coats and to be based and flocked.  My goal was to have these done by the end of December, but I will end up beating that mark by a week.  This allows me to get a head start on the next, most insane target of my painting schedule, which is to simply paint all remaining infantry by the end of January.  This consists of 108 figures, which seems like a lot, except that I painted 96 Crimean War figures in a month for Ambuscade, so I figure how hard can it be?


36 landsknecht pike plus 12 Swiss pike + 1 foot command stand + 24 armored pike.


48 arquebusiers (36 landsknect and 12 Swiss)

24 Landsknecht doppelsoldners + 12 Swiss halberds

24 armored pikemen

2-4 command stands


18 Gendarmes + 6 'Archers' cavalry + 1 mounted command stand

18 Elmeti + 6 Genitor cavalry + 1 mounted command stand


12 Stradiots + 20 artillery crew + 4 guns + 1 mounted command stand


6 mounted crossbow + 6 mounted arquebusiers + 1 mounted command stand

4 baggage train wagons

This schedule is front-loaded for me to just crank out all the infantry in the first two months, which should make the three months approaching Enfilade less frantic.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

'Almost the Alma' Black Powder Game

I ran my Black Powder 'Almost the Alma' Crimean War scenario at Ambuscade!, an one-day historical wargaming event that I helped organize, which was very fun by the way, and anyone and everyone is encouraged to attend next December.  The scenario set-up was the same as the previous playtests, with the following changes to unit profiles and composition:

(1)   Previously all the British cavalry units were classed as "small", with their hand-to-hand and stamina stats reduced accordingly. For this game I graded them up to "normal" size, which gave the British heavy cavalry units (Heavy Dragoons and Scots Greys) eight melee dice and the light cavalry (Hussars) six.

(2)   Per the Crimean War scenario from the back of the Black Powder rulebook, I upgraded all the Russian infantry to have a stamina of 4 instead of 3.  This acts as a counterbalance to the general lack of special rules for the Russian side as well as the plethora of special rules for the British and higher British staff ratings. 

(3)   I also calculated the point values for both sides using the appendix in the Black Powder rulebook, and using all available figures, the Russians start the scenario with a 200+ point advantage (approx. 1,200 vs. 1,000).  I went ahead with this since I figured the British need the challenge since they have so many factors in the their favor, especially the higher staff ratings.

The rough outline of the game was as follows (I did not take many pictures – I was having too good of a time!):

(Above: the Cossacks advance on the Russian left (bottom of photo) while the British heavies tussle with the Russian lights on the opposite side of the board)

Both sides advanced.  The Russians sent cavalry probing attacks out on both flanks.  The Russian light cavalry, consisting of dragoons and hussars, were effectively smashed by the British heavies, and the Cossacks on the other flank were turned back, despite 2-to-1 odds, by the British Hussars.  The Russians established a very long, dense firing line of infantry in the center of the table and attempted to out-shoot the British.  Most of the British infantry responded by falling back a bit to be out of Russian range but still in range to counter-fire with their longer-range rifled-muskets. 

(Above: the long green line of Russian infantry straddles the board)

Meanwhile, a unit each of Heavy Dragoons and Scots Greys succeeded in getting all the way to the Russian edge of the board, and turning and charging one of the Russian redoubts, and taking the position – an automatic partial victory for the British! 

At this point the Russian players conceded the game, since there was no infantry in reserve to protect the other redoubt position, and losing both would be an automatic full British victory.

I think the scenario was fair in terms of troop dispositions, and a review of the rulebook the next day confirmed that I did not adjudicate any rules wrong (phew!).  I'm a little curious why the Russian players chose to stop their advance midway across the board and engage in a musketry duel, which hurt them because it whittled down their superior stamina score of 4.  With the British heavy cavalry scattered about on the Russian flank, its seems there was a missed opportunity for the Russian infantry to put some serious pressure on the British center.  Also, a few infantry units protecting the Russian guns would have been useful in retrospect.

As in the playtests, I ignored the 'brigade morale' rule (it is optional, after all) and just tracked army morale instead – so if over half of one side's units were lost (either off table, destroyed, or on table with 'shaken' status), the entire army was deemed broken and would commence retreat.  I really recommend this method, with a visual scorecard of some sort to track how close each side is to breaking, for Black Powder and probably Pike&Shotte and Hail Caesar! as well.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Montgomery 1644

In probably my last game of 2017, we (Pete, Andy and I) played out the relief of Montgomery Castle of 1644, an English Civil War game using the Pikeman's Lament 'big battle' rules (the 'big battle' variant being no figure removal and multi-based figures).  Andy even got to get his ECW cavalry on a table for the first time!

(Above: starting positions - Parliament is at the river, Royalists at the ridge)

There were 52 points per side, with 12 points of Parliament cavalry coming on table on turn six (the foraging cavalry returning, as per the historical battle).  Kept all the stat blocks at vanilla levels - no elite or raw troops or even wild charge for the gallopers.

(Above: Royalists dragoons (right) harass Parliamentarian infantry)

Unfortunately I messed up the unit stat blocks on my game handouts, and Parliament cavalry ended up with overstated attack values and understated defense values.  We caught and fixed the attack values early on, but failed to catch the defense value misprint until after the game was over - so major boo boo on me there.

(Above: Pete advancing Parliament cavalry, while at below right the Royalists enjoy a tasty Portland-brewed beverage)

Otherwise the game was good and fast-paced.  We played to a reasonable conclusion in just two hours!

(Above: Royalist and Parliamentarian cavalry clash. The lisping cavaliers with the red jackets and blue hats are Andy's)

(Above: the final turns of the game. The Parliamentarian cavalry companies have been effectively destroyed, so the infantry, aided by some reinforcements (Pete rolled double 6s on an activation) try to see if they can make headway)

Next time I'll proof-read my stat-blocks!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Landknecht painting guide #2

More art history for reference.  That particular shade of yellow is very prevalent! Landsknect clothing entirely in white as well. Some of these are period tapestries which is interesting, since that means the colors are the colors of thread or fabric available.

Not seeing a lot of the arms or legs with stripes...

Above you can see a lot of rather monochromatic gendarmes with monochromatic horse armor (although with intricate patterns).

Off-red and blue a lot throughout these, but yellow seems to be the big winner.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

'Almost the Alma' Playtest No. 2

With Ambuscade just a week away, I cajoled Gabe into coming over for another playtest of my Crimean War scenario, 'Almost the Alma', so I could continue to hone my knowledge of the rules and also see if the game was more competitive with the addition of three more infantry units and two more cavalry units per side.  The only other change was each side had an unattached Commander-in-Chief with a higher staff rating, which benefited both sides equally, it turned out.  We also remembered to use initiative moves which really picked up the pace in the second half the game. I also ignored the "broken brigade" rules and just went with overall army break point (when half of total units in army are shaken, destroyed, or off table, that army has broken), which eliminated additional accounting steps.

Long story short, the British infantry (me) on the British left failed to cross the river and set up in the woods for almost the entire game.  This gave the Russians (Gabe) the ability to set up a very lethal and sturdy fire line across most the board, which proceeded to pile concentrated fire on select British units with the help of their artillery on the heights.  The British heavy brigade (Scots Greys and Heavy Dragoons) charged and were rather easily repulsed, since aforementioned supporting infantry was not in the woods where they were supposed to be!  Still, with the help of the scoreboard to track total number of shaken units, it came down to a nailbiter in turn 7 where the British "Almaost" bagged a 10th shaken Russian unit but came up short. In the bottom of the 7th it took the final melee of that turn for the Russian to break some British Hussars and win the game.

(Above: end of turn 1)

(Above: end of turn 2, I think, with British having significant problems crossing the Alma)

(Above: around Turn 4 or 5, I believe, with British heavy brigade charging on British left and the Guards doing a nice job enfilading Cossacks on the left)

Overall, it was the most satisfying game using a Warlord Games ruleset I have ever played, and I really think it was the 'scoreboard' visual aid (my kids' old stand-up chalkboard, in this case) which made the difference - both sides knew exactly how close they were to collapse at all times and it helped focus both commanders with short-term game decision making and also added some narrative tension.

There will be a few more tweaks for the Ambuscade version of this game but otherwise I feel very comfortable and prepared.