Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Wargaming Regrets (I've had a few)

I'm sure we all have a few of them, but was just thinking this morning of one of my biggest hobby regrets.

It goes way back to when I was at university. I was a repressed wargamer at the time and a post-grad student - the two may in fact have borne some relation to each other - but however that was, being a graduate student had certain privileges, and I found out on a particular Friday what one of them was.

We were greeted this morning with a note in the common room inviting us to visit room X on the Xteenth floor of the university library that afternoon.  It turned out that a retired professor from the university had passed away and bequeathed his enormous collection of books to the university library. Those that could not be used were to be given to the graduate students, and so we were allowed to go and look over the collection and take from there any books that we might want.

When we arrived we saw a room absolutely chocker-block with books. It was like the best used book store you've ever seen: literature, history, classical studies, languages, religious studies, reference materials; it was a goldmine of the humanities. I found a banana box and spent a memorable hour or so wandering around and filling it up. When I was about ready to leave (and sweating under the weight of these glorious gifts), I saw on one shelf a complete set of the Cambridge Ancient History.

It looked a bit like this:



I had used the CAH a lot during my undergrad years and it was an amazing resource. I thought about it, but decided not to take them. Although I was still doing some classical study at the time, I was more of a literature man by then and felt it would be greedy to take them all and that someone from the Classics department would no doubt get better use out of them than I would.

Still, it was with a slightly sorrowful step that I turned away and went out the door.

Well, fast-forward eight years to 2005 when I was becoming a proper wargamer focused mainly on the Roman Republican era and eager for any information I could find, how I kicked myself for not having picked that set up.

But the thing that's haunted me most about it was that unbeknownst to us the unclaimed books from that lot were to be chucked away, and I don't know if the Classics students even got a chance to have a look through.

 I do hope that someone somewhere saved them from the fire!



Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Recent reading (short reviews)

The Kindle has been getting an ancients workout recently and as some of the books may be of interest to wargamers I thought I'd post a few brief thoughts.

Julius Caesar: the Colossus of Rome. Richard A. Billows (2009)


This was an enjoyable read on Gaius Julius and the disintegration of the Republic. Billows is a Caesar apologist, and he places a large part of the blame for the Republic's demise on the unwillingness of the senatorial class to initiate necessary reforms, on their inability to compromise, and on their refusal to make accommodation for Caesar and his talents. Wherever you stand on that, it is a magnificently tragic story, and it is well told here.

There is a good analysis in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review which I would refer readers to, and will quote the conclusion:

"Light" reading for lovers of ancient history, Billows's biography of Caesar is appropriate to a general audience wanting detail but lacking a basic knowledge of the subject. It may even prove of use to those desperately seeking to put lecture-notes into order at the last minute. Stylistically a pleasure to read and crammed full of details, it has something to offer these categories of readers. However, it was never intended nor should be misconstrued as a serious contribution to scholarship on the subject. The work of Gelzer endures.
I mostly agree with the reviewer, but do think it's better than just 'light' reading. I found the book not only accessible but also informative and satisfyingly complete in the treatment of the theme. It covered a lot of ground and approached the subject from an interesting angle. I would recommend it.

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. Tom Holland (2003)


This was a nice contrast to the Billows book. Holland is far less sympathetic to Caesar, and reading one book after the other reinforced the complexity of the issues and provided a first-class example of how the same evidence can be used to support quite different conclusions.

A review by Richard Miles can be found here in the Guardian, and, as before, I will quote the conclusion:

Holland, a non-specialist, has produced a broad-ranging, accessible synthesis of the period. The fact that Holland is not an academic is a positive strength: it has allowed him to look at his subject with a fresh and engaging eye.

Though it is not a work of amazing original research, Rubicon passes the crucial "so what?" test. Next time someone asks me why they should study Roman history, Rubicon will be one of the first books that I shall direct them to.

There's something about Holland that keeps me wary as a reader. I'm not quite sure what it is. A hint of smugness? An overly smooth surety in his interpretations? I can't put my finger on it exactly, but a sixth sense was in operation throughout  and I felt myself not fully trusting his use of evidence or his conclusions. Worth reading, but I wouldn't be cajoled into thinking it's definitive.

Dynasty: the Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar. Tom Holland (2015)


Dynasty follows on from Rubicon to look at the Julio-Claudian emperors, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. He offers considered, in-depth portraits, and while the well-known flaws are discussed, he examines the circumstances of each ruler's life, times and mode of accession in an effort to put these flaws into context.

The New York Times review concentrates on it being an engaging yarn:

Mr. Holland may not write with Mr. Hughes’s [Robert Hughes, art critic and author of Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History - Prufrock] breadth of cultural references or literary flair, but he does a compelling job of conjuring ancient Rome and its often monstrous rulers, and providing us with an understanding of its complicated class dynamics and animating mythology. He leaves us with insights into the reach and sweep of its empire and an appreciation of how precarious life was for slaves and freemen and soldiers. And for the ruling class, too, caught up in “the great game of dynastic advancement” that was played out with conspiracies, secret alliances and mortality dispensed in an infinitude of ways — by poison, exile, starvation, false accusations and arranged accidents.

The Guardian's take was rather less favourable and in places a little unfair, allowing current politics to intrude and devolving into a somewhat uncharitable [mis]reading of the author's approach.

The original Dynasty was a show for the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which fed into a tangle of emotions about 1980s capitalism: viewers were required to feel a mixture of envy, horror, fascination and admiration for beautiful Joan Collins, her wicked ways and her much-emulated fashions. Holland’s book, likewise, invites us to put ourselves into the sandals of Nero and Caligula, and assumes that, if we let ourselves off the hook with a dash of sarcasm, we will want to do so – as if signing up to be their apprentices. Depressingly enough, this is ancient Rome for the age of Donald Trump.

Holland does not in fact invite us to identify with the characters, but does attempt to consider why they were portrayed as they were and the factors that may have led to monstrous behaviour. Again, worth reading, but my reservations about Holland apply here, too.

Augustus: the Life of Rome's First Emperor. Anthony Everitt (2006)


This book I read first, so although I am a little hazier in my recall of it than I am with the others, I found it to be a sound, thoughtfully put together account of the life and career of Caesar Augustus. Augustus is of course a complex, contradictory, almost unknowable character, but undeniably great. Everitt leads us to see this greatness without skipping over the contradictions, and does a fine job of telling the story(ies) of Augustus's rise to power and how he went about consolidating it.

It's a strong book, but best read with an understanding of what had gone before (the Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, especially) still fresh in the mind, so that the genius of Augustus's approach - and considerations of its necessity or otherwise - can be fully appreciated.

There is a trashy review in the Independent:


After finally defeating Mark Antony at Actium, Augustus ruled the Roman world for the next 40-odd years. Everitt tells his story well by telling it carefully, with due regard for sources and resisting the unlicensed speculation that has characterised screen representations from I, Claudius onwards. The same caution, however, inhibits a sense of perspective. Had Everitt looked ahead, he would have seen how quickly Rome unravelled post-Augustus. It was the Flavian emperors, from Trajan to Marcus Aurelius, who did more for a still embryonic Europe, never mind the West.

And a better one in the Guardian:

In everything from his moral reforms to his manipulative patronage, the father of the empire proved himself a master of psychology. It is the mark of this exemplary biography that Everitt does likewise, and does so with increasing confidence as political control begins to slip from the ageing Augustus and his vulnerabilities are revealed.

In my view Everitt's book was probably the pick of the bunch, but in saying that, as these were read on the Kindle, I didn't have the luxury of flicking back to review earlier events, to check consistency of approach, or any of the other little things that make reading a paper non-fiction book a more in-depth reading experience.

Anyway, all of these books had their good points, I would be happy to have them on my shelves in paper form, and I'll likely revisit them all at some stage.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Job and hobby overlap

One of the things about wargamers as a sub-section of society is that we're pretty good at finding ways we can put the old day job and whatever 'edumacation' (formal or otherwise) we might possess into the service of the hobby. It is clear to see that the skills and resourcefulness of the joiner, carpenter, accountant, researcher, office worker, teacher, academic, math savant, sign writer, hardware store clerk, I.T. wiz and many more vocations besides all add their own value to the wargaming table.

The gamers I know personally are excellent examples of work being also deployed in hobby service, but anyone who looks around a few blogs will note that wargamers everywhere bring their own unique sets of skills and approaches to the hobby. No matter how seasoned a wargamer one is, for a regular blog reader it would be rare to go a week without encountering a method, product or insight that one would not have been exposed to otherwise.

And this added value works the other way around, too: the things we do in wargaming can often be helpful in our working lives [witness the skills needed to order and paint figures, prepare terrain and table, organise rules, wrangle players and do all that's required to plan, stage, record and report back upon a multiplayer wargame, for example!].

Anyway, the reason I'm thinking about these kinds of things is that we are upping sticks and leaving Japan later this year, and I am therefore in the process of looking for work back home in New Zealand, after being away for almost twenty years.

I don't think anyone needs me to tell them that job hunting and all that it entails is a bit of a downer, but I'll go ahead and do so anyway. I particularly dislike the requirement to temporarily suppress conventional notions of truthfulness and modesty, but there's also the nomenclature designed to exclude. There are the tedious, box-ticking buzzwords, the codes, the codes within codes, the bright requests and the definitive silences, all of which lead persons of otherwise reasonable experience and accomplishments to begin to doubt themselves and their own worth.

So in future, should the roles ever be reversed, I think I will be asking HR people to demonstrate their excellence by putting on a wargame. Naturally, it will not be anything tricky, just standard fare: a game for three to ten people (depending on who makes it on the day), with clearly defined but flexible victory conditions; cooperative, but reliant upon responsible individual contributions; under a rules framework essentially complex but simple to explain, requiring constant individual and plenary feedback in response to new or unforeseen circumstances, and clear, firm and authoritative justifications should discontent arise.

Candidates will need to be prepared to explain how the course of action on the day would relate to real-world probabilities, and to acknowledge with good grace genuine shortcomings where they arose, as well as to diplomatically counter the objections of persons concerned about how problematic events or circumstances impacted on their own individual or team performance, without allowing the achievements of the victor(s) to be undermined by perceived sour grapes.

Candidates will be asked to submit a report in the form of a blog post or magazine report, including period information, background details, photographs, game commentary and a conclusion, all within a 48 hour period. The game participants must of course still be on speaking terms with one another at the conclusion of this process.

If the candidate meets requirements to this point, they will then be asked to purchase and paint a 28mm Samurai army to confirm their interest in the position.

The joke however, is on them - whether they paint up the army or not, I'll already've decided back in April that I was giving the job to Steve from accounts, and the HR person will never hear from me or my company again!

And then I'll give myself a positive evaluation and some really useful feedback.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Thunder at the Crossroads

Although I'm mainly an ancients gamer, Gettysburg is probably my favourite battle, and with some time off for Golden Week in Japan I decided to set up my copy of Thunder at the Crossroads from the Gamers for a little run through of the first day's events.

It's funny, but whenever I play a Gettysburg game I get a few butterflies in the stomach. I guess it being such an iconic battle and cultural marker there's a sense of reverence when approaching it. Books, films, Ken Burns's masterpiece, a certain address by Abraham Lincoln; they all go into making it something that generates a certain amount of awe.

Anyway, here are a few shots of the morning, from 8:30 until 10:30.














Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Paraitakene 317 BC

This year's Society of Ancients battle day (traditionally held on the first weekend of April) took Paraitakene as its subject. The battle day, organised by the tireless Richard Lockwood, is about getting as many Society members as possible together at one venue (though gathering elsewhere is also encouraged if getting to the venue is impossible) to discuss the battle and play it out on the table using different rules sets. It's a good occasion and a great example of what the Society is all about.

As I'm in Japan I wasn't able to get to the venue, but I did get a Paraitakane of my own in on Monday. As time was short, I used the tried-and-true Lost Battles rules, though I would also have liked to have experimented with To the Strongest, Scutarii or a modified Dux Bellorum.

Anyway, here's a quick report.

The armies deploy, both strengthening their right wings.

Eumenes' centre and refused left.

Eumenes has more elephants and the edge in heavy infantry quality thanks to the veteran Silver Shields, but Antigonus has the advantage in cavalry.

Antigonus' centre: phalangites and peltasts.

Eumenes' refused left.

Antigonus' right: a formidable strike force of veteran cavalry. 

The brave light cavalry on Antigonus' left.

The entire battlefield: Eumenes to the left; Antigonus to the right.


During the second turn, in order to achieve a decisive advantage on the right flank, Eumenes redeploys the light cavalry from his left to the right. This weakens his left even further, but he feels it is a risk worth taking to expedite the defeat of Antigonus' left and the rolling up of the enemy centre.

Antigonus advances all along the line, but pulls back the cavalry on his left to delay the first onset, reinforcing that wing with more heavy cavalry taken from his centre left.


The two centres meet.

The field.

The fight would be a true revolving door battle: a race to break the enemy's right and expose the centre.

The two centres commence the struggle, with both sides having some success in the central zone, but with Antigonus making no progress on the left.

Both strong wings bully their weaker opponents, with some thrilling exchanges as 'Favour of the Gods' changes hands, either averting catastrophe or pushing again for a breakthrough.


The centres locked in combat.

Antigonus presses forward inexorably on his right.


Seizing the moment, Eumenes and his companions lead the charge against the cavalry on Antigonus' left. He breaks two units, but the third holds on and, in a last-ditch charge of its own, cuts deeply into the Eumenid  horse, leaving three of Eumenes' four cavalry units shaken.

This piece of heroism may decide the battle.


Heroic resistance and attack on Antigonus' left.


In the centre the struggle continues. Light infantry are shattered, but the Eumenid morale holds. On the right, Antigonus presses on with his attack against the refused flank. He shatters one unit of elephants, and they take the cavalry with them in rout. Only one unit of elephants stands between Antigonus and the flank of Eumenes' phalanx.


Antigonus' right rumbles forward.

Attrition in the centre. It is very close.


Eumenes attacks on the right again, and this time a unit shatters. Again though the army morale holds firm. Eumenes, when it is his turn to test morale, is not so lucky: he uses 'Favour of the Gods' to fend off a charge, but it succeeds anyway, and Antigonus not only breaks through on his own right, but does so also in his centre, where Eumenes' phalanx crumbles against a succession of concerted attacks, leaving only the Silver Shields still standing in place.


Attack one.

Attack two.

Attack three

Attack four.


And with that, Eumenes army is in tatters.

The Silver Shields however are still there, and with Antigonid morale also fragile, there is still a chance that another successful attack or two could turn the tables.


The remnants of Eumenes' centre.


Having no choice but to risk all on a last few throws of the dice, Eumenes brings the cavalry up behind the Antigonid centre while at the same time attacking frontally with the remaining infantry. If they can shatter another unit or two here, having the cavalry to their rear could just about cause the Antigonid centre to panic and flee.


A phalanx sandwich. But will it be enough?


The Silver Shields pile in, but can make no headway. The attacks fail, and with that goes Eumenes' last best chance to pull the battle back.


The next two turns see Antigonus administer the coup de grace. It is not a nerveless victory though - 'Favour of the Gods' just manages to avert what could have been a disastrous end for Antigonus' stretched left centre.


Last rites.


Fittingly, the mighty A himself leads the battle-winning charge, and victory is complete: Eumenes' army is utterly destroyed.


****


Going on points, the victory was terrifically one-sided (110 points vs 48), but the battle was far closer than the result suggests. As it turned out, that heroic defensive effort by Antigonus' left shifted things in his favour just enough to ensure that Eumenes was always a step behind where he needed to be, and although Eumenes was only ever one or two significant attacks away from parity during the middle stages of the battle, those attacks never quite eventuated, due to a combination of effective use of 'Favour of the Gods' by Antigonus, failed attacks at crucial times, and Antigonid morale holding far better than the Eumenid when tests were required.

So a most enjoyable game, and there was plenty of excitement in it for the solo wargamer even though the final result was so decisive.

Next year's battle will be Telamon, and I hope to be able to fight that one out too.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tomogashima excursion

Near where I live there is a WWII-era island strongpoint that was designed to cover the southern approaches to Osaka Bay. It's a short ferry ride to get there from Kada Port, so we decided to take the kids over for the day and have a look around.

Kada. A sleepy little Japanese town.
Approaching the port from the north.

Looking west.

The town buildings nestle into the scrub-covered coastline.

Looking north.

One of the two ferries that services the island.

The ferry trip over is short and uneventful. For me it is spent mainly trying to entertain our youngest with a variety of dad techniques, one of which was to give him a bit of a chance to use the camera. He didn't do too badly!

We approach Tomogashima.

The jetty is on the Awajishima side of the main island, so we slip around and come in from the north.

Pan left...

...straight...

...and right.
It's picturesque, but not too hard to imagine that it would have had a different atmosphere 75 years ago.


Handy info for Englishy tourists!

A pleasant picnic area just beyond the jetty.

Lovely and restful as you look out to sea and away to Awajishima. It's hard to pick up in this shot, but there are hundreds of fishing and pleasure craft out on the water.
Just 600 metres to battery 3.

A snake (Japanese Rat Snake, I think) interrupted our progress while trying to swallow a squirrel whole. It succeeded.

The path is steep but well maintained.

Buildings are tucked into folds in the ground or up against the hill.

Third battery originally contained 8 guns in four pairs, all connected by tunnels, and each gun having a 360 degree range of fire. They must have been formidable.





On the west side of the ridge living quarters and magazines were built. All underground or built into the hill, and all connected by tunnels.






An above ground building. Original insides but, as you can see, in some state of disrepair!

Not sure what this building was for, but as it's fairly open by comparison, probably not for storing ammo!


We're at quite a height up here. Probably 80m up, at a guess.
After wandering about Battery three for a while we return the beach for lunch, then head west to look at Battery two.


A shrine entrance.
Battery two was designed to look west towards Awajishima,  and had, I think two guns. It was party demolished after the war by the Americans, so you are not allowed to walk over it.

Battery two from a distance.





A map showing all of the batteries on the island.




Looking from the seaward side.



Looking back up the hill to the east.

The area these guns would've covered: that's Awajishima in the distance.
There was plenty more to see, but the kids were getting pretty tired by this stage so we decided to head back to the ferry and go back home.

A mysterious ruin behind Battery two. Some kind of observation post, perhaps.

We came back the way we'd come to avoid tramping over the inland hill crest again, but you can easily see what an obstacle this would have been to any shipping attempting to come near the area.

Looking inland: a filthy swamp, with a camp ground away behind it for those keen to stay the night.

An 8 inch shell which thankfully never saw use.

So a good little day out.

It's sobering to think how different the world was back when this place was doing its assigned job, but equally as sobering for me was seeing just how much plastic rubbish gets washed in from the sea. The southern coast was just an absolute mess of plastic, polystyrene and other things. The swampy area of the island itself had also been used as a dump by locals, so there were old fridges, wrecked vending machines, old hunks of rusty metal as well as plastic brought in by wind and tide.

The place was very popular with visitors, but for me it was a bit depressing to see what we're doing to our environment, and how little seems to be being done to clean it up.

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