Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Goldilocks Cataphracts

I have set October 31st as the target date for completion of my Trimsos Project - that is, all the units and terrain needed for a re-fight of Donald Featherstone's 'Battle of Trimsos'. The rules I have been developing are quite playable as they are, but of course will continue to be altered as play testing continues.

I know, never set targets for a hobby project. But I reckon I'm nearly there. One of the reasons for optimism is that I have been helped over my painting wall by a bit of sub-contracting. Stuart has been waxing lyrical recently over the painting he's doing for some of his new projects, and so I caught him in a good mood and asked if he might find time to paint something for me. A good humoured but slightly sideways look resulted, but soon a price was agreed. The guy really is on a roll at the moment - in about a week I was able to collect the figures from his house - a 2 minute drive instead of paying P&P!

Now, painting standards for wargames figures can be a delicate subject. We might look at some figures and think they are a bit underpainted (or even, perish the thought, badly painted), though we would probably be polite enough to say nothing. My own painting standard I would assess as at the better end of underpainted. I have also stated my personal opinion, in a post a while back, that wargames figures can also be overpainted, an opinion which was vociferously challenged in a number of comments. 

Well, let me just say that the unit of cataphracts I now have in my collection is what I would describe as just right. Colourful but not garish, detailed but not pointlessly so, impressive whether seen at wargames ranges or picked up and examined. Oh, and Stuart's suggestion to paint the kontos red was inspired. Note that no two figures are the same - here is a unit that looks elite and proud of it.

For the record these are Warlord Games Sarmatian Cataphracts, in 28mm of course.

Can't wait to get these guys into action. Do you think 'The Goldilocks Cataphracts' might be a bit too whimsical a name for these chaps? Not quite martial enough perhaps? 

Anyway, enthusiasm re-kindled!

Edit: 'Goldilocks' in latin = 'Auricomus' (masculine). 'Auricomus Cataphracts' has a certain ring to it, I think.

Friday, 1 September 2017

The Bridge At Staruchy - September 1939

And so good fortune presented me with a free morning to set up and fight out the airborne assault scenario I had developed, with the intention of trying out the rules for glider and parachute landings recently published in Battlegroup Tobruk.

Now Battlegroup (like most contemporary rules, especially the WW2 ones) benefit from being played regularly. Whilst basically simple, there are quite a few fiddly bits to get the hang of, and if you haven't played for a while there can be some time-consuming searching through the rules for re-familiarisation. Such was my experience for this game, with the added problem of using the completely new rules for airborne landings.

The new rules I found pretty good. They seem to have the right balance of frustration and 'feel', which gives a good impression of the things that can go both right and wrong during an opposed glider and parachute assault. What was particularly interesting was that my modest game (platoon level, about 400 points per side) was resolved in just three moves. They were three quite lengthy moves (about 45 minutes each) due to my rusty Battlegroup skills, but nevertheless the relatively high Battle Rating of the Germans was rapidly eroded as gliders crashed, Fallschirmjäger dropped into the river, and Polish fire took its toll.

The scenario as described in my original post provided a pretty tight game, with the Poles exceeding their Battle Rating in German turn 3, whilst the Germans themselves had lost 34 of their original 35 BR. One surprise was how quickly the 2 pillboxes fell - with a cover save of 2+ for the occupants, these are usually tough nuts to crack. But some intense small arms fire linked to a run of 1s emptied one pillbox, whilst the other was silenced by placing a very handy 'ammo low' card on top of it. Flamethrowers are really fearsome weapons in Battlegroup, provided you can get them into range, and a Polish squad was quickly wiped out by such a discharge. They would have been ideal to clear the pillboxes, but in the end weren't needed. The counters taken for being under flamethrower fire and being under air attack were very useful in eroding Polish strength.

Below are a few pictures to give you a feel for the terrain - 15mm miniatures of course. The only changes I would make to the scenario as presented in my previous post would be to give just 20" of trenches to the Poles (more isn't needed), and reduce the number of HS-123 strikes to 1 to balance the points. I would also restrict the 'Alarm' special rule to 2 turns in this particular case. I didn't use the 'Red Shines The Sun!' special rule either. With veteran and elite Germans facing inexperienced Poles, the superiority in German morale didn't need extra boosting. 

The overall set up and the position after German turn 1.
One glider was destroyed, and of the other 3 only 1 made a perfect landing.
Polish positions around the bridge.
The only glider to land exactly as planned. I mistakenly marked the occupants as 'pinned' at first, as you can see.
In fact they were entitled to receive orders straight away.
The HS-123 strikes were effective in pinning some of the Polish units around the bridge.
Polish reinforcements arriving on turn 2 advance past an abandoned glider.
Final positions. A 'drop canister objective' has been captured by a German squad (bottom right), which won the game.
This particular rule is a clever abstraction of the critical nature of paratroops (especially German ones) having to retrieve supply canisters after a drop.
I'm looking forward to giving these rules another try, perhaps in a bigger game featuring air-landing troops. Perhaps this project from 2013 would be a good one to resurrect. 

In the unlikely event anyone is interested, I would represent transport planes landing under fire during a Battlegroup game in the same way as glider landings, but make them a bit more likely to land safely. So the dice rolls become 1-destroyed, 2-3 rough landing, 4-6 perfect landing. Thus the better chance of a good arrival (due to being powered aircraft using an airfield or prepared strip) is represented.

Thanks for reading. 'Til next time.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Bargain Basement 2

Just as no horse and musket wargame is complete without a windmill, no ancient wargamer could possibly think his collection finished without a temple building amongst his terrain items. The problem I had was that the wargame temples I found online were extremely expensive, like this one.

Luckily I had the guidance of a veteran wargamer. Stuart advised me to search out aquarium ornaments, and sure enough there were several to choose from online. I ended up choosing this one, but at the bargain price of £11.95 (an offer that seems to have been suspended for the moment). As with my previous bargains, I was pleased with my purchase, which you can see in the photos below.

No painting required, and some suitably exotic bushes have taken root in the ruins. Perhaps I might have preferred a temple that wasn't ruined, but beggars cannot be choosers. I just hope there aren't too many readers out there thinking, "it looks too much like a fish tank ornament for my money". Well, you pays your money...

Monday, 7 August 2017

Battlegroup Tobruk And The Return Of The Fallschirmjäger

I believe I hinted in my previous post that the ancient-period painting mojo was fading a bit. I'm sorry to say that shortly after penning those words, the mojo packed up completely in the face of a 12-strong unit of Parthian horse archers (hardly a challenging task for most wargamers, I guess).

But as so often happens in our hobby, as one door closed another one opened. Idly browsing the internet, I was reminded on the Battlegroup page of the Guild Wargamers forum that I had been neglecting my WW2 gaming, and that one of the last things I had been considering in that period was the purchase of Battlegroup Tobruk, the latest supplement in the Battlegroup series.

Shelling out £25 on this book was a tricky one. I no longer game this particular part of WW2 (click on the 'WW2 Desert' link at top right for my old exploits), and my sole interest in the book was the rules for parachute and glider landings included in the Crete section, which I wanted to use for some fictional airborne assaults set in the 1939 Polish campaign. Unfortunately no one I knew had the book, so getting photocopies of the appropriate section was a non-starter. I considered a cheeky post appealing for details on the forum or Facebook page, but this seemed rather too cheeky (not to say ungentlemanly). I had previously bitched (justifiably, IMHO) that the rules for Fallschirmjäger should have appeared in the 'Blitzkrieg' supplement, or even better in the original rulebook, so pride was at stake as well. But I had a whole stack of Ju-52s and DFS-230s sitting idly in a storage cabinet, plus a platoon's-worth of German paras purchased ready-painted some time ago. And of course my wargamer's consumerist itch couldn't be ignored forever.

Battlegroup Tobruk
So I bought it - you can get it on ebay for £24.95 post-free at the time of writing, but no cheap deals on Amazon for these guys. Was it worth it? Objectively, not really. Yes, I have the rules I wanted (amounting to about 3 pages), which are provided as part of a Crete-inspired 'Airborne Assault' scenario. They are neat and interesting rules which look like they should play well. Missing are rules for air-landing troops arriving under fire, a situation which featured significantly at Crete, but a simple adaption of the glider landing rules will be straightforward to write.

In addition to the rules, I have the army lists for German paras and glider troops in the early war period. These are important for Battlegroup because you need the points values and Battle Rating numbers to balance the games - or at least, such information is very useful to one's understanding of the game. But together with the rules this still only constitutes around a dozen pages from a total of 200. The extra set of Battle Rating counters and a new pull-out quick reference sheet will come in handy. Nevertheless, most of the book is of no use to me.

But to be honest I don't regret the purchase. These Battlegroup books are always nice to own, being well produced and including some good background reading. Anyone who knows me will be aware I am not really a fan of supplements as a concept, but Piers and Warwick have always struck me as decent guys who are dedicated wargamers and who believe in what they do. A minor criticism here is that no map or maps support the account of the Battle of Crete - the story of any battle without an accompanying map is always incomplete.

So I've paid £25 for a dozen pages of information which I reckon should have been in the basic rulebook anyway, and some air-landing rules are missing - but I'm actually pretty happy. Hmm. I guess that's wargamers for you!

The Bridge At Staruchy, September 1939
Time to check out the new rules in a modest scenario. Although the airborne assault rules were developed for the Crete operation, they seem to me to be perfectly suitable as a representative set for any opposed airborne landing. One of the unique rules for airborne assaults in Battlegroup involves placing 'drop canister objectives' before the fighting starts, and I had to knock up 3 of these from some old oil drum and jerrycan models, which I placed on 3cm square bases (this is 15mm scale):

The scenario is a simple one, for a 4' x 4' table. It is of course entirely fictional - there is no bridge (that I'm aware of) at the tiny Polish village of Staruchy, which was only chosen because I liked the name and it was easily pronounceable in English. The bridge is, of course, to be seized by a small but elite force of German glider and parachute troops, and is defended by a Polish infantry platoon.

The numbers at the edge indicate the die throws for the random locations
 through which Polish reinforcements will arrive

Polish Forces

Forward HQ in PF508 25pts 3-r BR

Infantry Platoon 124pts 9-i BR (including light mortar and ATR team)

2 x MG Pillbox 108pts 2-i BR

1 x AAMG 16pts 1-i BR

Off-table 81mm mortar battery with observer team 70pts 1-i BR

Defences: trenches/foxholes for 3 infantry groups and 20" of barbed wire. 50pts

Total 393pts 16BR 

German Forces

2 x timed HS-123 strikes 20pts 0 BR

1st Wave (4 gliders)
Fallschirmjäger Sturm Platoon 212pts 16-e BR
(including 3 x flamethrower, 3 x demolition charges and 1 x light mortar team)

2nd Wave (parachute)
Fallschirmjäger Platoon 137pts 16-v BR (including light mortar team)
Forward Headquarters 25pts 3-e BR

Total 394pts 35BR

I'll be conducting the game in accordance with the rules in the book, and we'll see how I get on with them. Further interest is added by the asymmetry of the two sides - although equal in points, the Germans have more than twice the BR of the Poles. This is a rather clever and quite subtle aspect of Battlegroup which I enjoy seeing in action, and this is probably the strongest contrast between points and battle rating I have seen in any of my games.

The assembled Fallschirmjäger Sturm Platoon. Platoon command squad of 4 men, 3 rifle teams of 4 men,
3 pioneer teams of 3 men with flamethrower and demolition charge, and 3 MG teams, plus light mortar.

I'll probably play this one through solo - I'll try and post a report on the resulting game. But no promises!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Charles Grant's Ancient Figures & The Trimsos Project

A rather special visit to Stuart's this month. We were going to do a playtest of the ancients rules I have been working on, but the star of the show was going to be an ancients army made up of figures formerly belonging to Charles Grant (senior). When Stuart mentioned a while back that he had these figures in his collection, I was naturally fascinated and have been looking forward to the occasion when we could get them out on the table and not only take a good look at them, but use them in a game as well. I'll let Stuart explain the background...

Trimsos meets ‘The Ancient War Game’? - Stuart Asquith Explains.
"Are we seeing war gaming history here? These 25mm figures were produced nearly 50 years ago, mostly by Greenwood & Ball (Garrison) and with some Hinchliffe models, and all featured in photographs in ‘The Ancient War Game’ by Charles Grant (senior), published by Adam & Charles Black in London in 1974.

All the figures shown here were originally in the collection of Charles Grant (senior); they are painted by him and date from c1971. The figures were gifted to myself – I rebased them on individual circular bases - by Charles Stewart Grant c1985.

Seen here are elements of a classical Greek army, including Boeotian, Corinthian and Spartan hoplites, with peltasts and slingers. Also, units from Alexander the Great’s army in the form of a phalanx (note length of pikes), hypaspists and archers. Finally some figures from a Successor army, plus a small unit of  Persian Immortals.

The ‘river’ has been formed using vac-formed stream sections (also originally owned by Mr. Grant senior) and is spanned by two bridges, all designed by Terry Wise and produced by Bellona c1980. The plastic Alder trees and wall sections are from the Merit range of OO/HO scale railway accessories.

The single contour wooden hills are domestically produced items. The temple is a recently purchased item from the aquatic section of a local garden centre."

Trimsos 5 (or thereabouts)
I brought over some of my own recently completed units to provide opposition. It was certainly interesting to see how the 25mm figures of nearly 50 years ago compared with current 28mm plastic and metal models.

A few photos of the game appear below. The field of Trimsos was slightly modified to create a more interesting battle, with more ground available to the west of the River Trimsos - which is actually more true to the map in War Games than the terrain shown in the book photos. We have also come to the conclusion that the battle will probably work better if the river is crossable throughout its length (rather than just at the bridges), with a suitable movement penalty of course.

Charles Grant's army (naturally, controlled by Stuart) took on the role of the Hyperboreans on the left of the photo.
My own troops formed the army of Hyrkania. No chariots were available to Stuart, but I managed to field 3 elephants.
Close up of the Hyperborean centre.
A unit of Spartan hoplites
Battle commences - light troops skirmish west of the river. Greenwood & Ball metal takes on Victrix plastic!
Melee on Rat Hill. One elephant was quickly destroyed, but the other 2 had their revenge on the javelinmen seen in front of them and were then able to charge the Spartans in flank, causing them to retreat. But not before my own hoplites had also suffered severely and had fallen back.
The master at work. The game showed that different basing between armies didn't really affect how the rules played.
The larger size of the modern figures certainly shows in this photo - but our enjoyment was not affected. The Victrix Numidians were easily seen off by the Hyperborean heavy cavalry.

All in all, a unique and inspiring gaming opportunity which was a real treat. I think the great thing was not just getting out these historic figures and admiring them, but taking the chance to wargame with them. That was, after all, why they were bought and lovingly painted in the first place.

Photo Parade
After the game (which we declared a draw - sadly time was limited), I took some close-ups of the Grant figures for your delectation.

Heavy cavalry. Stuart has resisted the temptation to straighten some of the spears for fear of breakages.
My personal favourite - a unit of Persian Immortals.
Hoplites and Macedonian phalanx.
Archers led by a more modern (and hence bulkier) officer figure.
More hoplites with some peltasts on the right.
This and the photo below give you an idea of the 'Grantian' cavalry painting style.
A second view of the same figures.

Project Progress
So, just in case you've forgotten (or never knew in the first place), the Trimsos Project is about assembling all the units I need for a re-fight of Donald Featherstone's 'Battle of Trimsos', from his 1962 book War Games. I have decided to collect units from any period of ancient history to complete the armies, as the fancy takes me, and I am working on a development of the original rules rather than buying a commercial set. Once I've collected enough units for the re-fight, I reckon I will continue until I have 2 armies each of 10-12 units, and then settle down for some serious (well, actually, not too serious) ancient wargaming.

I now have all the figures I need for the Trimsos battle, although some units remain unpainted and (in the case of the chariots), unmade. I have some extra plastic figures beyond this basic requirement, enough for about 4 units, in my 'plastic hillock'. I must admit that the painting challenge is beginning to frustrate me now - I am impatient to get gaming with properly painted armies but the motivation for painting the last few units is sometimes wanting. Still, I will get there. 

Latest off the painting table is one of my three Warlord Games Assyrian heavy chariots. These are just as fiddly and time-consuming to assemble and paint as they look, but they do make weighty and imposing models once complete.

Assembled and ready to paint is a unit of Warlord Games Sarmatian cataphracts. These are lovely figures and I'm looking forward to having them finished, although some Parthian horse archers (also from Warlord Games) are ahead of them in the queue.

I find that I would prefer to collect all plastic figures, as they are cheaper and also generally easier to paint. But the ranges available are limited and metal figures need to be purchased. Warlord Games are generally my favourite, having a very large range of figures to choose from and usually being just a bit cheaper than other metal manufacturers. I do find their £5 postage for even the smallest orders rather excessive, but on occasion I have just had to bite the bullet.

However, feeling the need for a unit of archers, I decided to try a new source of figures and went for a pack of 12 plastic Levy Archers from Gripping Beast's Saga range. You can also get these in a box of 30. The problem is that you need some command figures, and for these I tried a command pack of Artizan Designs Carolingian infantry (in metal) sourced via Fireforge Games. To make the unit up to 16 figures I added a couple of Greek archers from a Wargames Foundry pack. Representatives of this mixed bag are seen below. The plastic archers (centre) and the Artizan command figures (right) really are particularly excellent. Another unit I am impatient to get onto the table.

The rules themselves are working reasonably well, and seemed to pass the Asquith test during our game, although a number of notes were made regarding possible improvements.

And Finally...
Before my game with Stuart detailed above, in order to boost my enthusiasm and test the rules, I had played the Battle of Trimsos with my old pal Paul, utilising some unpainted units and a group of three SYW wagons as stand-ins for chariots. The set-up is seen below, being taken from the same angle as the photos on the book. Terrain is taking shape, mainly in the form of hills made from 18mm MDF contours. These will need painting to match the felt terrain mat I intend to purchase from S&A Scenics in the near future. One particular difference from the original Trimsos forces is that the three Hyperborean heavy infantry units are changed into two units of greater strength, but keeping the overall number of figures the same. This occurred on a whim, to make the two armies more distinct from each other. 

In the photo below you can see the forces of Latium (Hyrkania in the book) on the left, with the men of Paphlagonia (Hyperborea) on the right. The armies are laid out as far as possible in the starting positions for the original 1962 battle. As mentioned above, the table as photographed in the book differs from the map in the same book, so anyone re-creating the battle has to make their own judgement on the exact placing of terrain and the size of the hills.

All in all, this remains an absorbing and fun project which I am glad to have started and look forward to finishing. I will of course keep you updated as things progress.

Farewell for now, and good gaming.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Hook's Farm (In Glorious 54mm)

Once again my latest battle report is from an afternoon visit to Mr Asquith's dining room. Most of my own wargaming effort recently has been devoted to building up my Ancient Period armies, and games at my own house have been conspicuous by their absence. I hope that may change soon, but for the moment a monthly fix of Old School gaming at Stuart's is most welcome.

This month Stuart suggested playing H.G.Wells' Hook's Farm battle using Britains 54mm metal soldiers. How could I refuse? For some background on Stuart's current gaming outlook, check out his article in the latest Wargamer's Notes Quarterly (issue 2), available free on request via the email address given in the linked blog. For the moment, below is the map of the original Hook's Farm game, and a photo from Little Wars of the original game in progress.

The Game In Pictures
A full game report here is hardly necessary. In truth, figures were moved, dice were rolled and casualties taken off, but this was very much a leisurely afternoon spent discussing wargaming in general and Britains figures in particular. The rules were of Stuart's devising, and as you would expect they were simplicity itself, being similar in character (but not in detail) to those used in previous games. See my previous posts regarding games with Stuart for examples.

The first photo below shows the set-up - Scottish units under my control to the left, English ones commanded by Stuart on the right. 

This view of the table is from roughly the same direction as the original photo above.
Aah! Britains cavalry. 
A melee takes place to the west of Hook's Farm.
English infantry advancing towards the Hovel.
Fierce fighting took place on the ground east of Firefly Church.
On the other flank an infantry clash is pending as the cavalry fight continues.
Hook's Farm in the background.
Control of the Hovel is disputed.
I think I picked the Scots because they had the Britains 4.7" naval guns.
Along with naval crews!
The final fight of the game saw the Scots infantry see off the English near Hooks Farm.

The result of the game? Well, we stopped playing when it was time for me to depart. Beyond that, I don't think either of us paid much attention to who was actually winning.

Thanks as usual to Stuart for such a fine bit of escapism with some truly lovely figures. I think my next post should be an update of how my Ancient armies are progressing. Time to get the camera out!

'Til next time.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Action At Annie's Farm

In late April I once again travelled the short distance to Stuart's house for our monthly game. The table was set out with a particularly delightful collection of figures which Stuart had selected from his Tardis-like set of storage cabinets and boxes. In short, an American War of Independence game had been prepared using 40mm figures from the Front Rank AWI range. Annie's Farm itself is from the Caliver 15mm 'Battlefield Buildings' range.

The units were infantry regiments or battalions of 10 figures each. No cavalry or artillery were present. The British had 7 such units plus a 7 figure unit of Indians, whilst the Americans had 9 units. The slight imbalance was corrected by one British unit being grenadiers. Rules in use were (of course) a much simplified version of Charge!, adapted for the narrow table available. These are appended at the end of the post. I was offered my choice of side, and chose the British.

The Set-Up

A sight to gladden the heart of any true wargamer.
Americans to the left, British to the right. Annie's Farm is top left.

American troops lining a wall adjacent to the farm 

British light infantry opposite the crossroads.

Units of the British centre.

The American centre on the hill to the right of the farm.

The Game

The British light infantry hurry forward and claim the crossroads.

Both sides push forward.

This is the British right/American left flank. The British-allied Indians have infiltrated around
the flank of the advancing Americans, exploiting the cover of a small wood.

Once again the master of pointing exhibits his skills. Quite right Stuart, that regiment of yours
is indeed about to have a bad experience!

Determined chaps - just look at those faces! These Americans are pushing forward near the farm.

Around moves 3 to 4 the Americans hurled themselves forward in a series of
desperate charges right across the table.

The British responded in the same spirited manner. Here the Indians engage on the
British right flank, despite being outnumbered.

Action in the centre, with Annie's farm in the background.
'After you with the dice old boy!'

The British light infantry got the best of the hand to hand fighting at the cross roads.

In fact, this was true overall across the table. The dice were kind to the British and the Americans
suffered terribly. Annie's farm was soon under pressure.

The photos give a flavour of the action. With a number of American units removed from the table after suffering two thirds casualties, Stuart conceded.

The Figures
Just a couple of close-ups of the lovely figures it was my pleasure to handle.

The Rules
These simple, one-side-of-A4 rules proved ample for an afternoon's wargaming between gentlemen. A few additional paragraphs might be needed if we play some more games in future. 

CHARGE! For AWI Rules Summary
(Changes suggested in order to allow
for reduced playing area)

Line Infantry   Move and fire (line)    3”                    (Half rates through woods, over
Battalion in line           4½"                 obstacles, on hills)
Column                        7½"

Change formation        6”                    (Maximum move, no firing)

Light Infantry Movement                    9”                    (No firing)
                        Move and fire              6”


Indians            Movement                  9”                    (No firing)
                        Move and fire             6”



Line Infantry Fire

0 - 3"               5, 6 kills                      (1 dice per two figures)
3 - 6"               6 kills                          (grenadiers add +1 to the dice score)


Light Infantry Fire

0 - 3"               4,5,6 kills                    (1 dice per two figures)

3 - 6"               5,6 kills                       (Note that specific individual targets need 6

6 – 9”              6 kills                          whatever the range)               


Musketry Fire in Melees

Distance of Charge  Type of Target          Range for Musketry Effect

0-3”                             All                               Firing not allowed
over 3 – 6”                  Cavalry                       Long range
over 3 – 6”                  Dismounted                Short range
over 6”                        All                               Long range

(Roll one dice per figure.)
Infantry v irregular infantry and infantry v infantry, individual combats,
grenadiers add +1 to each dice.
RESULT: Draw unless one side scores more than one dice ‘pip’ than the other. Casualties include those from any fire received when charging.
DRAW – both sides withdraw half a move, rally next turn.
WINNER – Rally on spot next turn.
LOSER withdraws one move, then rallies next turn.
UNDER STRENGTH: Units become under strength when they have lost 2/3rds their number and are immediately removed from play.

First Version: April 2017

Thanks to Stuart for arranging such a treat. Once again the world's cares were set aside for a couple of hours whilst we played with our toys in a relaxing and friendly atmosphere. Wargaming at its best.