Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lost Battles: Asculum

This is a series of screenshots taken from a game of Phil Sabin's Lost Battles. While Lost Battles is usually played with figures, there are two platforms over which the game can be played electronically. One of these platforms is Cyberboard and the other is VASSAL. Usually used for boardgames, these act as a kind of virtual board, showing the map and pieces and providing dice and cards when needed as well. Cyberboard is designed for play by email games (PBEM for short), while VASSAL can handle both PBEM and live play. I have used Cyberboard, but am more comfortable with VASSAL. The VASSAL module for Lost Battles was put together by John Acar, who has done a great job. The report that follows was from a game with John himself, using his module. The battle is Asculum, from 279BC, which pitted Pyrrhus' Epirotes and allies against the Roman republic. John took the role of Pyrrhus (top), while I played the Roman commanders Decius and Sulpicius (bottom).

We used the historical deployments, which can be seen in the first screenshot.

In turn two the Epirotes advance into the central zones, bringing up the cavalry on both flanks. The Romans draw first blood, with the light infantry scoring a hit on one of the phalanx units (spent units are denoted by having a white S placed next to them). The Romans also advance in the centre, but hold back the cavalry.

Turn three sees battle joined. Pyrrhus advances the cavalry on his right, scoring hits on both Roman opponents at a cost of one to himself. The infantry fight sees the Romans having the worst of it, but it is early days yet.

This is the scene after the 4th turn. The units in the Roman central zone have taken a lot of damage and are under severe pressure. The cavalry fight on the Roman left, while favouring the Greeks, has not yet been decided; the cavalry fight on the other flank is now joined and is also in the balance.

Pyrrhus' fifth turn sees some decisive action. The cavalry is victorious on both flanks, and the units in the Roman central zones are now almost all spent. Pyrrhus has overseen some hard fighting, and has done it well!

The Roman infantry reply by inflicting some damage of their own, scoring hits in all the opposing enemy zones. The Greeks still have some fresh units to put to the fore, but another turn like that will cause nervousness in the ranks.

Turn six sees Pyrrhus' cavalry begin to envelop the Roman lines. This reduces Roman morale and makes it more difficult for them to hit the enemy. The Roman infantry escape very lightly this turn - the Greeks do not score any hits!

The Romans, with a courage born of desperation, hit and shatter an elephant unit, but are unable to inflict enough damage to worry the Greeks. They move a light infantry unit into the left flank zone in an attempt to get around behind the phalangites.

The cavalry now completes the envelopment. The infantry push forward led by Pyrrhus and his guard cavalry, who are committed at the critical moment and at the critical point. Pyrrhus and the other men in his vicinity cut a swathe through the Roman centre, shattering three units. The Roman morale gives way. Small pockets of men hold out for a little longer; others flee immediately.

It is a great victory for Pyrrhus, and a fine game played by John!

VASSAL is an excellent way to play Lost Battles. If you are at all interested, you can find this module on the Lost Battles yahoo group and more information about VASSAL itself at the official site:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Painting plans

Well, after spending last night's free time posting the battle report, I've decided that I really need to get some painting done. I have four Carthaginian chariots and eight Successor elephants to finish off. The chariots have been brown-washed, and the horses undercoated black, but I'm still trying to settle on a colour scheme for the monstrosities.

But the elephants... They've been painted, washed, dry-brushed and the hides finished. The elephants should in fact be racing around on the table by now, but like an idiot I thought it would be a good idea to bend the trunks a little to give the models a bit of individuality. If I'd done that BEFORE painting them it would have been fine! So, now I have three of the elephants with perfect hides except for their trunks, from which the paint has flaked off. I was so annoyed with myself that I put the figures in a box and haven't looked at them for three months. It has to be done, but it's going to be a right pain trying to match the colours of the flaked areas with the finished. It's made more difficult by the fact that I mixed the colours for each elephant separately to give them variation.

Anyway, that's enough grumping. This is, after all, the time to be positive...

Speaking of which, my friend in Kobe sent me a wonderful Christmas gift: a home-cast nativity set. I want to do a good job on these, and will post some pictures as things get going. I'm not a particulary good painter, so there's a little bit of trepidation at approaching 'showpiece' figures, and in a scale somewhat larger than 15mm at that.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Macedonian Expedition

What follows is a photo replay of a battle between Republican Romans and later Macedonians set sometime after the end of the Hannibalic War. Some of these pictures were originally posted on, but this report on the battle is new. The fight used my hexless variant for Commands & Colors: Ancients. The Romans have been caught crossing a minor river. It is fordable all along its length, but is something of a nuisance nonetheless. There is a rise on the Macedonian right defended by Thracian thureophoroi and a screen of slingers; there are also some fields in the centre, but these do not hamper movement at all.

The Macedonians advance swiftly on the left as the Romans get their forces organised.

The Romans send their Aetolian allies to take the hill and threaten the rightmost flank of the phalanx.

Perseus with the guard cavalry sweeps forward on the extreme left to push back the velites, who are attempting to disrupt the phalanx with missile fire. Perseus is forced to retreat after a counter-attack by the Roman horse.

The action is hotting up on the hill as the Aetolians make a determined assault. They drive off the slingers and severely disrupt the defending thureophoroi as their leader, Timoleon, urges them on.

Meantime, the phalangites in the centre left are starting to take some casualties from the missile fire of the velites. It is time to close for battle.

On the hill the thureophoroi have rallied, and one of the Aetolian units has broken, thwarting the attack. It will be up to brave Timoleon to commit his light cavalry and attempt to turn the tide.

The phalanx closes in from the left along the line. You can see in the centre that the velites are struggling manfully to hold Philip and his guard phalangites off long enough for the hastati and principes to do their work.

Timoleon makes his charge, falling upon the right flank of the thureophoroi. One unit breaks and the other is under pressure to its front and to its rear.

In the centre the velites are crushed between the lines.

Alas for the Romans, Timoleon falls! The thureophoroi drive off the light cavalry and rout the Aetolian auxiliaries. They have survived the attack but both sides are too exhausted to renew the fight. Stalemate ensues, but it is a stalemate that favours Philip.

The heavy infantry now makes contact. The hastati, unprepared for the weight of the phalangites' attack, are quickly in trouble and the principes are ordered to lend their support.

The principes too find themselves in difficulty as the phalanx advances. There is not much between them and the river now.

The consul Dolabella throws his centre in at an oblique angle to hit the weakest link in the phalanx hard. He is successful!

An overview shot shows the relative positions of the main infantry lines at this stage. The Romans have lost the hastati and the triarii are about to be committed. But the phalanx is wavering...
The Romans break a unit of the phalanx in the centre and force another to flee, but Perseus finally attacks again on the left, driving the Roman cavalry from the field.

The Romans have taken heavy losses. The hastati and principes have been mauled, the Aetolians were unable to take the hill, the cavalry has been defeated and with the right flank now exposed Dolabella sounds the retreat. The troops fall back to the camp.

What's next?

I have not been painting much of late and the miniatures are not as readily accessible as they would normally be (hmm, perhaps there's a connection there...) so I've been concentrating more on boardgames.

I am playing a play-by-email game of the brilliant A Victory Lost with my friend in Kobe. I hope to do a report on this when the game is completed, so stay tuned. The game has been quite something.

There is also the Commands & Colors VASSAL tournament, of which the preliminary rounds (all six of them!) have just about been completed. I may do a report on that at some stage, also.

Finally, as you can see from my last post, the game I've most recently had on the table was Glory III.
But all good things come to an end, and I am now faced with a conundrum: what do I tackle next? Painting, or a new boardgame? In looking over the shelves I haven't found much that jumps out at me just at the moment. Perhaps For the People, in keeping with my current Civil War interests, or Grant Takes Command, a recent purchase? I think it's almost time to do a little painting, but we shall see.

On the table

Inspired by my Civil War readings, I've been playing through the morning turns of the Cedar Creek scenario from Richard Berg's Glory III over the last couple of weeks. This is a picture of the battle at around 10am.

Early's Confederates had previously fallen upon the VIII and XIX Corps and routed them utterly, but VI Corps is now up and has formed a defensive line with the remaining elements of XIX Corps. A close look will show you that the Union right has been busted open, and the cavalry are going to have to do a bit of work to restore the situation. I called time on the game not long after this as it had had a good run and the table was needed for other things.

The Glory system is well-suited to solo play. It uses a chit-draw system to activate formations so it is easy enough to play each drawn chit on its merits. I probably should have had the federals conduct a fighting withdrawal rather than have them hold a forward line, so in future plays I should probably introduce a die-roll to determine tactics at a higher level. The system can bog down a bit when there are a lot of units in play (the Antietam scenario was heavy going), but the Cedar Creek scenario is just about perfect.

There are three types of combat: artillery fire, defensive fire and the charge. All are resolved on the throw of a d10 and the addition or subtraction of modifiers - mostly easy to remember ones - but in practice things become a litle more complicated because of the command and control restrictions.

I also have Glory II (Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville) so when time permits I must try another run-through with one of those scenarios, too. They are quite big games though, so I may struggle with motivation if they are only played solitaire!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Author of the month

My author of the month is Shelby Foote. I recently finished his three volume treatment of the American Civil War and found it very impressive. It's not often these days that I will finish a book and feel a sense of loss. Foote comes across as a decent and humane man who writes with wisdom and learning. I believe he is considered to have a bias towards the South, but it seemed to me that he was fairly catholic in his sympathies. The trilogy is a lot of reading, but it was the best thing I've read in quite a while. Grant's memoirs are next on the Civil War reading list (after Bloody Crucible of Courage) though I still have to get around to actually ordering them.

Commands & Colors: Ancients - Imperial Rome

This is the latest-but-one expansion for the Commands & Colors: Ancients series of games. I have been playing some of the scenarios in an online VASSAL tournament organised by Bill Bennett of the ccavassal yahoo group. The tournament has seen a number of exciting games, including one of Placentia in which a reduced heavy infantry unit and the Emperor Aurelian himself managed to see off attacks by five separate units to claim a miraculous victory.

There are quite a few cavalry-heavy scenarios in this expansion and these change the character of the card deck somewhat. Nevertheless, the scenarios have been fun to play, seem pretty well-balanced, and present some interesting challenges. I think that including blocks for a third Roman army was a bit unnecessary, but they do look good on the board.

All in all, I'm glad I picked it up.

Ancients D6

These Romans have blundered into an ambush! In their eagerness to crush a smaller Carthaginian force they have neglected to scout the woods. Sure enough, a contingent of Spanish tribesman was hiding therein, and is now about to descend upon the Roman flank. Vae victis...
This picture is from a game using John Acar's Ancients D6 rules.

John's rules marry the simplicity of movement and command and control from games such as DBA with the slightly more dice-heavy combat system of games like Warhammer Ancient Battles and Ancient and Medieval Wargaming. I found it to be nice mix. It fits on a 2'x2' board, making it easy to set up and take down, and gave a good game. You can find a link to John's wargaming site in the links section on the left. He has also adapted it for fantasy battles as well. Give his rules a go, you might be pleasantly surprised.

More Beginnings

When I was young I was fascinated by stories of war and adventure. I used to read about Robin Hood, King Arthur, Roland, Hector and Achilles, Horatio on the bridge. Later I became interested in historical figures and read about Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, Julius Caesar, Wellington, Napoleon, Churchill, Blackbeard, the Red Baron, and so on. At the age of ten I found a copy of The Lord of the Rings around the house, and for many years this was my favourite book with Tolkien my favourite author. I suppose those early readings have in many ways defined my later interests.

Sometime at Intermediate School I found a book in the library called The Wargame. Inspired by this I enacted a series of military manoeuvres on the wall, using a cork bulletin board for the battlefield and coloured pins for the soldiers. This was, I suppose, when I first discovered wargaming. Of course, I had been playing with model soldiers for many years, but with no formal rules or dice it was not quite the same thing.

One of my school friends and a fellow member of the rugby team introduced me to Warhammer Fantasy Battles when I was about seventeen. This was my first exposure to organised wargames with painted figures and terrain. I loved it. I enjoyed choosing my army, deciding on a battle plan, and then watching it unfold on the table. I was also quite successful, which had its own appeal.

University, music, beer and the fairer sex were more the focus of the next decade, but some fifteen years later, while living in Japan, I decided I needed to get a hobby. Remembering fondly the fun we used to have, I placed an order for my first set of wargame figures. A short few weeks later, two armies of Chariot 15mm figures arrived from Magister Militum: Polybian Roman and Later Carthaginian.

Since then I've picked up Antigonid Macedonians, Ancient Spanish, Classical Greeks and Late Achaemenid Persians in 15mm. In 1/72 plastic I have Samurai, Vikings and figures for both sides of the American Civil War. Not all of these are painted, and I'm afraid to say that already I know that some never will be. There are also many other projects that interest me, but I'd need a good deal more time than three score years and ten to complete them.

So, there you have it - my potted wargaming biography!

A Beginning

Everything must have a beginning, so let's call this it.
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