Thursday, 16 November 2017

Danish Bacon versus Saxon Lamb - a 'To the Strongest' AAR

After my game with Keith earlier in the week, I decided to dig out my wooden blocks and have some trial games of To the Strongest, just to see how they compared to other ancient rules I play, namely 'Dux Bellorum' and 'Sword & Spear'. So after some very basic line up and advance to contact games, just to get a hang of the main mechanics, it was time to have a 'proper' game, with figures and some scenery.

To keep things simple and at a manageable size, I used an old 2' x 2' board, marked out with 2" squares and then put down some basic terrain features to break the board up a bit. In terms of forces involved, I went with my Late Romans/early Saxons and early Vikings, both of which were pretty 'vanilla', again to keep things simple.

I decided that the Vikings would be the attackers, mainly because I happened to sit down on that side of the table and it also made sense 'historically'. Again no notes were made, but the game was fast and furious, so hopefully the following annotated 'photos will help you follow the action.

The view from the Viking baseline. Both sides broadly deployed in a linear fashion, with skirmishers on the flanks.

The Saxon camp on the left with the 'Agnos Dei' and the cross and some light cavalry on the flank.

"If God is with us, who can stand against us?" or at least that was the hope of the Saxons.

The Danes had brought along their bacon and seer.

The Danes got off to a good start, with their skirmishers advancing smartly to take control of the wood and rough ground, whilst the centre moved forward a tad further than planned, as the supporting troops failed to follow up.

The Saxons in reply pushed forward in a pretty solid line, but had failed to deploy a reserve.
The view from the Saxon right flank.

The Danish left flank could be outflanked by the Saxon cavalry. Hopefully the archers in the rough ground would be able to slow them down.

The Danish line not exactly in line.

The Danes were able to realign their troops into a better formation, whilst the archers drew first blood as well as destroying a unit of Saxon light cavalry. On the Danish left flank, a Shieldwall unit had broken through the Saxon lines and pushed through the wood to threaten to turn their flank.

The threat from the Saxon flank has diminished somewhat.

The Danish right flank.

The sheep are getting nervous as the Danes have pushed past the Saxon right flank.

The Saxons are really taking a battering as the card gods are not with them today.

The Saxon light cavalry charged the skirmishing archers in the rough ground, which proved to be a big mistake. Lesson learnt.

The Danish right flank still holds firm.

 Saxon units threatened by lots of Danes. Not a good position to be in methinks.

The 'Gotterdammerung' moment. The Saxons are losing units left, right and centre.

There is little opposition left on the Danish left flank and in the centre.

The Danish right flank pushed forward as well.

Time for the sheep to exit the table as quickly as possible, as the Saxon position has become untenable.

The Saxon losses. The Danes had none.

Well that was certainly fast and furious and over much more quickly than I was expecting. So from my few games so far, I thought I'd jot down some thoughts:

  • The rulebook is incredibly well laid out. It is very easy to find things you want to refer to with minimal effort. If only all rules were like this. The ring binding makes it easy to leave the book open at the page you want, but I've found most of the time it is on the QRS page at the back, which I really should print out.
  • The rules so far have been incredibly easy to pick up. Using the grid system for movement and the cards to resolve activation, shooting and melee mean that you can understand the basics, very, very quickly. 
  • There is lots more detail contained in the rules, which I'm slowly adding to as my games progress. Danes versus Saxons is a good way to start, as you don't have too many fancy units to deal with. Next up I want to try adding in say chariots, elephants and heavy cavalry and it will be interesting to see how the game feels then.
  • To do the above, I really need to create a proper army list for each force, with their break points etc calculated. I also want to use the Strategems and maybe one of the scenarios, other than a simple line up and advance to contact. But I don't want to run before I can walk.
  • Shooting so far hasn't proved to be too effective. As these rules cover up to the Middle Ages, I'm not sure how they would work replaying Agincourt or Crecy. Not that I want to, but it's a good benchmark to see how they handle massed longbows.
  • Using playing cards rather than die seemed strange at first, but it certainly makes the game go along at a fair old lick. So far I reckon you could get a couple of games in an evening no trouble at all. 
  • I wasn't sure about how I'd feel with a grid based game, but based on my games so far, I'm a convert. It won't stop my playing 'Dux Bellorum' etc, but the ease and speed of game play as a result makes these probably 'my go' to rules for Ancients games.
  • Having played my games on a 2' x 2' table with a 2" grid, I plan to enlarge the table to a 3' x 2' and to use 3" grids. This will allow me to field chariots, elephants etc that currently would struggle to fit nicely in the 2" boxes. I still plan to base my foot on 40mm x 20mm bases, as then I can use them across other rulesets with ease.
  • Having enjoyed my games so far, I'm really looking forward to the release of 'For King & Parliament', the ECW variant of the game that is due out early next year. I'm tempted to go back to 2mm for these rules, but will wait and see. I'm not sure whether Keith would talk to me again if i did!

So far I'm very happy with these rules. They are also supported by a forum as well as loads of free army lists on the 'To the Strongest' home page along with updates to the existing rules. Once I've finished enough units for some games of 'The Pikemen's Lament', then I think it will be time to revisit my Ancients armies and get on with some painting.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Battle for the Temple

A couple of days ago I took the opportunity of some time off to meet up with my friend and gaming chum Keith. We decided to have a playtest of his Ancients rules, broadly based upon those used by Featherstone et al for the Battle of Trimsos. Details on how these have developed these can be found on Keith's Blog. A pleasant drive through the Cotswolds on a crisp Autumn morning saw me arrive mid morning, with the table and armies all arrayed for battle. So after the usual chatting away on a wide variety of subjects, we decided we had better get on with the game.

Keith had kindly sent me the latest version of his rules, so I had a good idea of the broad game mechanics, coupled with having read Featherstone's original rules. I made no notes at all during the game, so hopefully the following pics will give a good of idea of how things progressed. 

Both sides arrayed for battle. I was in command of the army with the elephants, which I was more than happy with. The objectives were to be in control of the ford and bridge over the river by the end of the game, or to break the enemy.

The elephants who, from right to left, were named Colonel Hathi, Nelly and Trump, much to Keith's chagrin. The looked fantastic, as did both armies.

My left flank, with light cavalry in front with my kontos armed cataphracts in support.

The enemy deployed with some lovely, but rather daunting looking chariots.

The view towards my lines, with light cavalry on the left flank and Celts lurking in the wood.

Both sides advance towards each other.

Throwing caution to the wind, I advanced my pachyderm brigades forward, unaware at this point how tough fighting Phalanxes would be.

My slingers unleash hell at Keith's light cavalry, almost causing them to take a break test. Somehow I think they must be related to David of Biblical fame.

Trump and Nelly at this point failed a morale test to charge those massed pikes. However Colonel Hathi pushed forward and caught the light infantry as they tried to evade.

Having seen the light cavalry being driven back by shooting from the chariots, the cataphracts charged in, supported by their commander.

My plan, if it could be called one, was to try and slow down the advance of the enemy units in the centre, so that I could move my heavy infantry to cover the bridge and hopefully the ford as well.

An battle of attrition develops on my left flank, as the chariots prove to be tough nuts to crack. 

Trump and Nelly are charged by the phalanxes...

... which dispatch them with ease.

Things get a bit complicated as multiple melees develop...

... but I come out of it in a better position.

My troops continue to cover the objectives as Keith advances in the centre.

Though Keith dominates the centre, my left flank looks to be moving towards turning his right flank if all goes to plan.

The decisive action could be between Keith's phalanxes and my heavy infantry.

The battle appears to be moving in my favour.

Keith's cavalry are in danger of being taken in the flank.

My heavy infantry await the attack.

My slingers still control the ford, but the Celts are out of the woods and want a fight.

Despite having two chariots left, Keith's right flank is pretty much hors de combat.

The phalanxes luckily can't quite reach my heavy infantry.

The Celts also can't quite reach the slingers.

The end of the battle. Time was against us, but I won a marginal victory on points, as well as having Colonel Hathis ready to wreak havoc in the rear as well as controlling the left side of the battlefield.

Well that was a fun game, full of action and the rules worked well, with Keith making notes of things that needed tweaking as we went along. As always, time for some post game thoughts:

  • It was fun to play an 'old school' type of wargame, which I've never done before. It felt very different to other games, but was still challenging and entertaining, which is what I want really from a game.
  • Keith's figures look really lovely and ImagiNations games allow you to choose units that you want to play with. Personally, in an Ancients game, I want chariots, elephants, camels and cataphracts. Not sure about phalanxes, but must admit that they look fantastic. This has rekindled my interests in Ancients gaming and so plan to dig out my troops at some point soon to remind me of exactly what I have.
  • With regards to the above, I want to have a go with 'To the Strongest' rules, which look to be good. When I've got a handle on these, we hope to be able to use Keith's figures once again, which shouldn't be a problem given that they use a grid based system.
  • During the game we talked a lot about how to try and reflect how chariots were used, how durable they would be etc. This is pretty tricky given that we have, as far as I know, very little useful information in this regards. A tough thing to get right as well as making them a viable choice for a player, but without being the Tiger II of the battlefield.

I hope to be able to get another game of some form or other in this week, whilst i've got some time off work. I'm torn between some more Ancients, WWII or ECW. Of course i could try and fit all three in but also need to get on with some figure painting. It's a hard life being a gamer...

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Operation Market-Garden - the Drive towards Valkenswaard

I've been trying to get a game in of something or other for quite a few months now. But as seems to be the case these days, work or real life conspired against me each time I planned a game. A tad frustrating to say the least, but something I suppose many of us gamers have to live with. Finally the Gods smiled upon me and a window of opportunity appeared earlier in the week. The question was what game to play?

After some thought and reading through several planned scenarios from the previous months, I settled upon BKCII, a favourite ruleset of mine and my recently finished Fallschirmjager. Initially I thought of some form of Normandy scenario, but then for some reason or other plumped for Belgium or Holland in 1944. This immediately evolved into some form of action based upon Operation Market-Garden.

As I child I can remember reading a 'Bridge Too Far' by Cornelius Ryan whilst on holiday and being utterly absorb by the account of the operation. I was completely gripped and pretty much finished the book in a week or so. When the film came out, it was just the icing on the cake. Also at this time I always wanted the Tamiya Stug III model that came with some Fallschirmjager. Sadly I never got the kit, but my love of both the Stug III and Fallschirmjager never changed.

Again, looking back at my scenario notes, I modified an earlier one to broadly replicate the opening drive of XXX Corps on the first day of the operation, which can be found below:

Scenario Details
8 Turns with the objective for the British troops to exit off the opposite table edge of to break the German Kampfgruppe.
British use Mobile Deployment.
The Germans start with 1/3 of their Kampfgruppe on the table, deployed up to the half way line of the table.
From Turn 3 the rest of the German Kampfgruppe can arrive using Mobile Deployment from their table edge.
Tanks and Assault Guns can only use the road or 5cm either side of it, to replicate the soft ground which was impassable to tanks. Carriers and Light Tanks ignore this rule.
The British Infantry start the game dismounted, as they are expecting possible action from the woods ahead, based upon earlier encounters.
The British Honey Recce unit starts the game on the road, but 30cm away from any German unit.
My usual house rules of 'hits stay on' and mortars and artillery fire automatically cause suppression where in use.

British OOB
1x CO (CV9)
3 x HQ (CV8)
1 x FAO
1 x FAC
1 x Honey Recce
12 x Regular Infantry
2 x MGs
1 x 3" Mortar
2 x 6pdr A/T Guns plus tows
6 x Shermans
2 x Sherman Fireflys
3 x 25pdr off table artillery support
1 x Typhoon with bombs

Fallschirmjager OOB
1 x CO (CV9)
2 x HQ (CV8)
9 x Fallschirmjager
3 x MGs
3 x Mortars
1 x Pak 36
1 x Pak 38
1 x Pak 40
3 x Stug III
3 x Gun Pits

The Fallschirmjager decided to dig their guns in either side of the road, with one by the farmhouse with a line of fire right down the road. The infantry were in the woods, ably supported by 2 MG units and 2 Mortars, all of which had good lines of sight along and either side of the road.

The British split their infantry onto either side of the road, with the tanks lining up on the road as was their only option. The FAO and FAC would only be able to come onto the table at the end of their Turn 1.

A view from the British table edge, with the farmhouse in the distance and Valkenswaard road leading off into the distance.

The Germans dug-in either side of the road.

A view from the British jumping off point and the lone Recce unit on the road.

The Pak 40 dug-in at the farmhouse and in a position that afforded it a great view down the road.

Turn 1
The British got off to a good start, with their right flank advancing and deploying their ATG and Mortar as they went. Opportunity fire from the German mortar saw one infantry unit suppressed. On the left flank the infantry advanced towards the cornfield, but attracted no fire. As the tanks advanced along the road, the German ATGs opened, suppressing the lead Sherman.

In response the Germans let rip with pretty much everything they had, suppressing another Sherman, an ATG as well as infantry and MG units. A bit peeved by this, the British tanks fired back, suppressing the Pak 36 and nearly destroying the Pak 38.

The end of the British Turn, with their units advancing along a broad front.

The tank 'traffic jam'.

The end of the German Turn.

The British left flank, with some units suppressed (red die).

A view form the right flank, again with suppressed unit clearly visible.

Turn 2
Things didn't get off to a great start, as the Honey recce unit failed to get through to any command units and the FAO's comms were also down. However, luckily the FAC called in an airstrike, only for it to fall short of its intended target. Both flanks moved forward, with both sides exchanging fire and suppressing further units. The tanks once again blazed away, seeing the destruction of the Pak 38 and once again suppressing the Pak 36 and a mortar. The CO managed to get through to the FAO, who this time did get through, calling in an artillery strike on the German infantry, causing the loss of one unit and suppressing another.

The Germans failed their command roll, which wasn't exactly what they needed at this point.

The Typhoon flies in at low level...

... and promptly misses its target, probably due to the fact I was using a Hurricane in its place! 

The British advance slows as they come to grips with the Germans.

The Tanks continue to pour fire into the German positions that they can see.

Turn 3
Once again the FAO comms went down and the FAC, although getting through, blundered leaving him with a -2CV next Turn. Obviously the shame of the Hurricane proxy was too much.

Both flanks advanced, leading to the Pak36, both MG units and a Mortar destroyed. As the tanks advanced, the Pak40 opened up, suppressing yet another Sherman. In response, the tanks fired back, but failed to suppress it as it was too well dug-in, but managed to finish off the remaining mortar unit.

Not a moment too soon the German reinforcements arrived and quickly moved along the roads towards the farmhouse.

The British flanks are advancing, whilst the tanks are slowly edging forward, but at some cost.

The British left flank pushed forward quickly, in the absence of any opposition.

The Shermans struggle to advance as quickly as they would wish.

The German reinforcements arrive and not a moment too soon.

Turn 4
Yet again the British FAO and FAC (who was at -2CV) failed to get through to their respective assets. Not a great start to the Turn. At least the right flank advanced, but the left one failed, just when they were ready to move into the woods. The tanks at least engaged the Pak40 and the Stug IIIs, missing the Pak40, but destroying the lead Stug and suppressing the one behind. In response, the Pak40 brewed up yet another Sherman.

The German turn started with two initiative assaults from the infantry in the woods, leading to the loss of one Sherman, but both infantry units being destroyed.Despite this setback, the remaining Stug III in the farmhouse caused mayhem on the British right flank, suppressing two units that fell back into other infantry, suppressing them in the process.

The end of the British Turn.

With Shermans brewing up on the road, the other Shermans move off into the woods for added protection.

The Stug IIIs succumb to the Sherman Fireflys guns.

The Fallschirmjager assault the Sherman, despite being suppressed by the weigh of fire as they come in.

The assault sees the Sherman destroyed, but at the cost of the Fallschirmjager unit.

The end of the Turn.

The results of the Stug III shooting are clearly visible with 4 units of infantry suppressed.

The Germans are in a strong, but rather isolated position.

Turn 5
It came as no surprise that the FAO and FAC yet again failed their command rolls. What are the chances...? As the infantry pushed forward on both flanks, the Shermans finished off the Stug III on the road as well as the dug-in Pak40. This was enough to take the Germans over their breakpoint. Even if this hadn't been the case, their position was pretty untenable.

The British right flank reaches the edge of the wood, but still in view of the remaining Stug III.

An overall view of the battlefield at the end.

The left flank advances unhindered.

The road is open but at what cost in the long run?

The untenable German position, bereft of most of its armoured support.

Post Game Thoughts
Well after so long it was great to be playing a game again. As ever BKCII failed to disappoint as a ruleset and broadly speaking the scenario worked well. It was always going to be a tough ask for the Germans, but it's not an easy one for the British either. So as always, some reflections upon the game:

  • The British pretty much need their FAO and FAC functioning right from the very start. Without them it is damned tough to shift dug-in troops, especially in a scenario such as this one. The fact that they didn't in this game did hamper the British, as the tanks had to do a lot of the donkey work, which slowed them down.
  • Having just one, straight and exposed road makes tanks very tempting and exposed targets, but then this was the case historically. And I didn't even have an '88 for the Germans to use. Add in woods either side of the road or nearby and you can see why it was a tough task right from the off for the British. It is worth having a look on Google maps and street view to really get an appreciation of how open the terrain is. Coming from East Anglia I'm used to it and wouldn't want to fight over this sort of terrain.
  • I reckon I need to paint another Squadron of tanks, as 6 doesn't seem quite enough. If the Germans had had better die rolls, then the British could have lost more than the 50% that they did in this game.
  • I'm not sure whether infantry in half-tracks would be a useful addition for this sort of scenario. Reading 'A Bridge Too Far' after the game, it appears that the infantry road on the tanks to allow them to provide quick support as required. However later on the British are berated by the Dutch for not having infantry support at the start. Time for some more reading on this.
  • I think that this scenario would work better on a 6'x4' table, as it would give the Germans greater opportunity for a defence in depth. If this were the case, I would give the British assets for some pre-planned artillery barrages to reflect the historical rolling barrage they used at the start of the operation. Some side roads might be useful as well for some flank attacks or to allow the British to find roads 'off-table' to allow them to outflank the Germans, as happened on occasion.
  • As a one off game, it works well enough, but this really cries out for a linked series of scenarios. For the German player they would have to husband their meagre resources carefully, but also be unsure at to whether they would receive any reinforcements and, if so, what they might be. For the British player they too cannot be profligate with their materiel, but also have to bear in mind that this is a race against the clock. I think is something for some future games and one that requires careful planning in advance. The other option is to play it as a board game, with the broad moves played out their, then dropping down to the wargames table for more detailed actions. Again, something to have a think about.

So there we have it. I've got some more BKCII games planned, but really need to finish off some more units before I can get back to the table. Until next time.