Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Last Stand at Surbiton - a Bloody Big Battles AAR.

Last year Dave and I got to talking about gaming the The Battle of Dorking, for no other reason that it would be a good chance to have the British and Prussians fighting each other. As with many ideas it fell by the wayside as our minds were tempted by other periods. However last week Dave resurrected the plan with a view to putting on a demo/participation game at the Legionary Show this Spring. He suggested using Bloody Big Battles as the ruleset, which we both enjoy and which is a nice fit for this period. 

Rather than gaming the better known 'Battle of Dorking', we decided to go with the 'Last Stand at Surbiton' as it is a smaller battle and would allow us to try out the army lists to see how they worked. This was perfect for me as I lived in Surbiton and Thames Ditton whilst at Uni and then when working in London. This local knowledge allowed to me tweak a few things, mainly the railway track being on a embankment and thereby blocking line-of-sight. The actual area of the 'battle' is very small, so we dropped the default unit size down to Battalion level. In fact you could say it became a 'Bloody Small Battle'.

Orders of Battle
Dave drew up some OOB which can be found below and very much formed a starting point for our trial game. As things progressed we talked about whether to change a few things here and there, but broadly speaking the units remained as written.

10th Bde 7th Division:
Composite Volunteers [4] Raw, MLR
1st Berks Militia [4] Raw, RBL
1st Derby Militia [4] Raw, RBL

13th Bde 7th Division:
2nd Hants Volunteers [4] Raw, MLR
2nd Surrey Volunteers [4] Raw, MLR
Composite Militia [4] Raw, RBL

7th Bde 8th Division:
Composite Infantry [4] Trained, RBL

A Battery [1] Trained, RML
B Battery [1] Trained, RML

* Volunteers are poorly armed hence only have Rifled muskets, not yet converted to Martini-Henry.
** Militia have the Martini-Henry, use the Chassepot ranges in BBB.
*** British artillery are still Rifle Muzzle loaders ☹
**** This force may just be a speed bump due to the Raw status of the majority; there may be a touch of the Warmington-on-Sea Home Guard in these guys.


9th Bde, 5th Division:
1/8th Grenadiers [6] Trained, Dreyse Needle Gun
2/8th Grenadiers [6] Trained, Dreyse Needle Gun
3/8th Grenadiers [6] Trained, Dreyse Needle Gun
1/48th Infantry [6] Trained, Dreyse Needle Gun
2/48th Infantry [6] Trained, Dreyse Needle Gun
3/48th Infantry [6] Trained, Dreyse Needle Gun

Reserves, 5th Division:
1st Uhlans [2] Trained
1st Battery [1] Krupp, Trained
2nd Battery [1] Krupp, Trained
3rd Battery [1] Krupp, Trained

* A typically efficient German force, well equipped and ready to push aside opposition.

After some discussion we allowed both sides to choose their deployment based around three broad objectives. Initially these were pretty much in and around Surbiton, thus forcing the Prussian player into a full on frontal assault, with time being against them. This was tweaked later on, more of which at the end of the report. 

Due to the nature of the play testing, no notes were taken, as things naturally developed as we played. However I took quite a few photos, so with some annotations, hopefully this will give a flavour of the proceedings.

The British are deployed on the right, mainly in Surbiton, with the Prussians near Thames Ditton and Long Ditton.
One British Brigade is deployed in depth along the hill, to try and slow down the Prussian advance. The British reserve can be seen in line of march, ready to move out quickly to where they are most needed. On the right flank can be seen the other British Brigade, mainly in Surbiton but with a Battalion in Seething Wells (top right hand corner).
The Prussian push forward all across their front, with their artillery deploying and then bombarding the British in the woods.
The British 'forlorn hope' comes under Krupp artillery fire.
The British second line moves out to protect the left flank from any attempt by the Prussians to turn the flank.
The Prussians swiftly close to try and get ready to assault the woods.
The British resolutely hold on despite facing the might of the Prussian army. Both sides continue to become Disrupted as a result of the weight of fire faced.
With the Prussians pressing the centre, the British move out of Seething Wells and the environs of Surbiton to threaten the Prussian left flank, screened by the railway embankment.
The British, despite the Prussian pressure, are in a good position.
The British go low on ammo as they pour fire into the Prussians.
Suddenly the battle takes a dramatic turn, as finally the Prussian pressure makes its mark as the British centre starts to collapse.
As the Prussians assault where possible...
...there trail of destruction is evident as another unit collapses...
...leading to a unit of Militia to face most of the Prussian force...
...which unsuprisingly is forced to retreat.
Even though they have cleared the British off the hill, the Prussians are facing an unexpected flank attack from across the railway line.
The Prussian centre looks exposed, but the British do not have enough quality units to evict them from the hill.
The British line the railway and fire, ineffectively, at the Prussians whilst Surbiton is re-inforced.
As the battle rages along the railway embankment, some British cavalry arrive and the Prussian Uhlans are re-inforced.
Their job done in delaying the Prussian advance, the British are happy to await further Prussian attacks whilst safely esconced in Surbiton and along the railway embankment.

Post Game Thoughts
Well for a first runout of the scenario, it all worked pretty well. We tweaked a few things as we went along, which was only to be expected. Once again Bloody Big Battles provided us with a fun and challenging game where we could focus on our tactics rather than the rules. Not bad considering we hadn't played for some time. 

For those that are interested, a few things that we changed and tweaked can be found below:
  • We increased the number of German commands so that they had a greater chance of activating. The plan is for anyone wanting to have a go is for them to take on the part of the Prussians. If they spend some of the game not doing much isn't going to be enjoyable for them, now is it?
  • The Prussian force is now going to be 3-4 Brigades, to allow for more than one player to take part at anytime.  
  • The British forces will be pre-deployed, whilst the Prussian players(s) can chose how and where to deploy their troops.
  • We increased the Prussian cavalry unit to make them a bit stronger and added a cavalry unit to the British. This allows for some possible flank manouevres and the chance to threaten the flanks if one side decisively wins the cavalry battle.
  • A unit of Prussian Jaegers was added, again to give some flanking action if required.
  • A unit on each side received one base of skirmishers to reflect their elite ability.
  • Depending upon how the battles unfolds, there may be some re-inforcements arriving for either side. I don't want to reveal more in case anyone reading this has a go on the day!
  • The objectives will be more spread across the board to help broaden out the battle and to give the Prussian player(s)  some decisions to make in terms of how best to use their forces. Again we have a few ideas of how to make this more interesting, but can't say anymore.
If all goes to plan we hope to have a stab at the Battle of Dorking when we next meet up, most likely in a couple of weeks time. If anyone is planning on attending the Legionary Show, please pop by to say 'Hello' and maybe even have a go at the game. It would be great to see you.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Battlegroup - first game impressions

A few weeks ago, Keith invited me over for a game of 'Battlegroup', using the recently released hardback core rulebook. I had treated myself to a copy of these as a Xmas present so it was the perfect opportunity to give them a run out. So after a bit of bedtime reading  in the week to get to grips with the core mechanics, I set off on a wet and cold Sunday morning to have a bit of wargaming fun in the Cotswolds.

Keith fancied trying out the first scenario from the rulebook, 'Recce Screen', using his lovely Poland '39 forces. The forces were broadly a couple of Platoons a side, with some additional units in support. Due to the nature of the scenario, things would start off small and then build up as reinforcements arrived. So really a perfect scenario to get a handle on things.

The game was played on a 3' x 3' table (more of which later) with a nice mix of terrain and 3 objectives. By chance I ended up commanding the Polish troops, which I was more than happy with, as you've just got to love their tankettes! No detailed notes were kept as a lot of the game was spent making sure we got things right, which broadly speaking we did. However I took plenty of pics which will hopefully give an idea of how the game went.

The Polish deployment zone was the bottom corner by the woods. The farmhouse in the centre of the table was one of the objectives. Looking at the open terrain to the left, I chose to deploy most of my troops along the road and the houses adjacent to it, with a screening force in and around the wood.
The few German troops basically deployed along the road with a small flanking force on their right.
Things got off to a brisk start, with the Polish forces forcing the German crew  to abandon their vehicle after it had broken down in the middle of the road. Both sides pushed their infantry forward to try and dominate the centre of the table. No reinforcements would arrive until the start of Turn 5, so we had to husband out troops to the best of our abilities.
The Poles push forward.
As both sides began to exchange fire, the Poles moved their infantry forward into the farmhouse and the objective, whilst the Ursus armoured car manouevered to get a flank shot, then promptly failed.
The Polish troops are in the top farmhouse, whilst the German infantry lined the wall to the left of the smoking vehicle.
Armed only with a machine gun, the German armoured car wisely retreated, as concentrated Polish fire saw the demise of a German section.
The German 'heavies' arrived in the form of three Panzer II's, which outgunned most of the Polish armour.
The other Panzer II's pushed round the Polish flank to threaten the tankettes.
At least the Poles had a 'heavy' gun of their own in the form of a horse drawn 37mm anti-tank gun, which was by far and away the most powerful gun on the table.
The Polish tankettes respond to the threat on their flank.
Unable to get a shot away, the Polish 20mm armed tankette is quickly brewed up by the Panzer II. German infantry arrive and their combined fire with another Panzer II sees the Polish section in the farmhouse reduced to half-strength.
The Ursus armoured car moves to try and threaten the German right flank.
'Yours truly' using Keith's new toy to check line of sight for the Polish anti-tank gun and remarkably useful it is too.
Through out the game the Germans had steadily been taking casualties, but how badly of course I could not know. When I lost a unit I drew the 'Air Attack' counter quite by chance. This proved to be a turning point in the game. So off Keith trotted to his den to give his Kara bomber its annual outing. I chose as my aiming point the infantry just behind the wall, the little round disc of which can be seen just in front of the right wing.
The deviation and distance roll led to the attack landing right on top of a Panzer II and German mg unit...
... the result of which was one blown up tank and no more mg unit. This loss put the Germans well beyond the breakpoint and so the Poles had won the game.

Post Game Thoughts.
Well for a first game with a new set of rules, I must say they were pretty easy to pick up and a lot of it felt intuitive. Naturally it helped that Keith had played a few games before. So as always some thoughts on points that may be of interest:
  • Rather than giving too detailed a review based upon just one game, I would recommend that you read Keith's review on his Blog. 
  • We both agreed that a 3' x 3' table is really too small for most games, unless you drop down to just a Platoon with a few additional units. A 4' x 4' table is really much better, giving more room for manouevre, deployment, terrain placement etc.
  • I must say that I really enjoyed the game and think that these rules work very well for Company level actions and below. I tried to like 'Chain of Command' and whilst a good set of rules, they just did not give a good game IMHO. For larger scale action I will continue to use Blitzkreig Commander II.
  • The command and control mechanics I liked and work well for solo play. Ditto the way loss of units add a variable amount to the break point. Not cumbersome but enough to give a nice level of 'friction'.
  • Knowing that I will not have to re-base any of my existing units is a great bonus. A few additions here and their for things such as anti-tank rifles and 2" mortars are easilt achieved.
  • I will certainly be picking up the 'Blitzkreig' supplement at Salute as it gives me another option for some early war games and even tweaking for use with my SCW/AVBCW forces. Having to buy a supplement I do baulk at slightly, but the books are superbly produced and are lovely to read. At least the hardback rulebook has lists in it for Canadians and Germans in Normandy, which will cover my late war gaming.

So first impressions have been very favourable. I look forward to trying out some more small games soon as well as reading the rules with the benefit of having played a game.


Friday, 20 January 2017

The Battle of the Plain - a Sword & Spear AAR

I collected my copy of  Sword & Spear 2nd Edition at Salute last year having had a very enjoyable trial game a few weeks earlier with a couple of gaming chums. In true wargaming style they had then just sat there after the usual cursory read through of the rules. Then a post by my friend Keith Flint got me thinking about some proper Ancients gaming. In true wargames butterfly mode this quickly morphed into a full blown Imagi-Nations project, more of which another time.

So over Xmas I decided to get in some small, very quick and simple games of Sword & Spear, just to get a handle on the game mechanics. These were played out on the bedroom floor (shades of my early wargames as a child) on a 2' x 2' board with a few units aside. Despite my knees not thanking me for playing on the floor, these games were perfect to get a handle on the game. Combined with post game reading of the rules followed by more test games, I felt confident enough to suggest to Dave that we might kick off the new wargaming season with them. 

Dave was up for this and gave him a good excuse to dig out his Warmaster Ancients armies. These had last seen the light of day when we had  tried out 'Hail Caesar' which frankly had not given us a nice game. It would be interesting to see how these compared. So after a trial game the previous week, which went well (Dave even ordered the rules), we thought it was high time to have a 'proper' game, using commanders and the terrain set up mechanism. In terms of forces, we settled upon 450 points, with Dave taking a Hunnic force and myself an Anglo-Saxon one

Terrain Set Up
Broadly speaking both sides roll 2D6, with the lowest die roll being the minimum number of terrain the pieces they can lay, the highest roll the maximum. You then roll on 2 further tables which determine where the piece is placed and how much, if any it is moved. 

Naturally Dave wanted an open table so that his Huns could run rings around me, whilst I wanted the reverse of this. Dave rolled his die which allowed him to place two pieces of terrain. He choose to combine them into a large hill, which was duly placed. I had to place a minimum of two and a maximum of six. To cut a long story short my die rolling led to all of my terrain ending up in one corner of the table, with the rest of it billiard board flat, not exactly what I wanted. 

Deploying our forces followed (which can be seen below), with mine deployed in a long line, with a small reserve and skirmishers and cavalry on the flanks. Dave deployed the bulk of his troops on his left flank to naturally try and turn my flank and roll up my line. 

Due to the nature of the Turns and the phases contained therein, it is a bit hard to write a 'normal' AAR. As such annotated pics will hopefully give an idea of how the game ebbed and flowed. So without further ado...

My forces deployed in the right, Dave's on the left. Note: that the red discs represent my Captains, as I was using my Dux Bellorum force which does not contain any command stands.
My line had its left flank anchored on the wood with javelin armed skirmishers to add some mobility to counter any threats to it. On the right I deployed my cavalry and archers, again to give protection and mobility. In the centre was my reserve to plug any gaps should they appear.
As expected, Dave pushed his light horse forward to try and turn my right flank, whilst I pushed my left towards the hill.
With my right flank under threat, I moved a unit of cavalry into contact, to try and slow the advance down. Shooting from the Hunnic light horse caused a hit on my un-engaged cavalry.
Planning ahead, I pushed my left flank towards the hill, with the aim of destroying the small units of subject infantry on it, to give me a good defensive position should I need it. Spear armed shieldwall being attacked uphill by cavalry would be hard to shift.
As my right flank comes under extreme pressure, my left and centre advance.
Both units of cavalry somehow manage to hold on, despite an awful lot of attacks going in. Truth be told that Dave's die rolling was appalling, to the point that he even changed his die half way through the game!
My left flank continued to move forward, with my skirmishers in position to attack the subject infantry's flank.
All the action is on the flanks, with the centre un-engaged.
The attacks go in on the left flank, leaving little hope for what remains of the subject infantry.
My cavalry have done their job in holding up the Hunnic horse, allowing my infantry to offer a refused flank, which would be hard for the Huns to attack.
To add insult to injury, my skirmishers charged into a unit of Hunnic cavalry, with a Captain attached. All Dave had to do was avoid rolling a Double 1 to prevent their demise. To two red die says it all...
The final act of the game with...
...the Hunnic left flank severely depleted...
...and their right flank gone, it was game over as they had reached their Army Breakpoint.

Post Game Thoughts
Well our first 'proper' game of Sword & Spear proved to be great fun; well for me at least, but Dave may disagree! The game lasted about two hours from start to finish, which is absolutely perfect for our evenings gaming. We even had a chance to have a post game chat, which is good. I think there are quite a few points worth raising, so as always a few thoughts in no particular order:

  • "Quantity has its own quality". My force outnumbered Dave's almost 2:1. With almost all of his troops activating on a 3+, or 2+ with Commander attached, I thought it was going to be one way traffic for much of the game, as my units being 'Undrilled', are much harder to get moving, talk less of manouevering. However having almost double the number of die to roll for activation, more than offset the Hunnic mobility. I must point out that my die rolling was pretty good for once, with many 6's rolled. More games are needed to get a better feeling for what makes for a balanced game, as points wise we both felt that in the end it was in my favour. Time will tell.
  • It was nice to be able to play with the same forces again, so that we could start to get to know what works, and more importantly, what doesn't for our troops. I must say that I would have found it hard to use the Hunnic troops compared to my Anglo-Saxons, as I'm certainly comfortable with how they play. Having used them a lot in 'Dux Bellorum', they play in a very simlar manner with S&S. One good thing is that the figures, from the Pendraken Late Roman range, allow me to field anything from Late Roman troops (no sh!t Sherlock) to Middle to Late Franks and even Early Byzantine. For the latter they may not be perfect but it doesn't bother me.
  • You need a lot of die for this game. I ordered some extra die from Annie at Bad Squiddo Games for a very reasonable price. About 20 will do for each for in terms of activation with around another 8 -10 being required for combat rolls. You will also need some way of marking hits, but I use my normal 7mm die for this.
  • The Activation System really makes this game stand out, as you really have to thing when and where do I place my die, assuming that you roll well enough to be able to use them. Again my 'die superiority' gave me the edge against Dave, just using the law of averages, combined with a large doe of luck. As we said at the end of the game, Napoleon always asked if the General was lucky. On the day I certainly was.
  • It is nice to be able to play another game that is quick to pick up after only a few games and to use the QRS for most issues. We only had recourse to the rulebook a few times, that being mainly to confirm a few things we were unsure off. Of, and they have a great index at the back, which makes things VERY easy to find. Other designers please take not. 
  • The combat system is quick and easy to remember and works really well IMHO. No need to cross reference table for saves etc. This makes the game move along at a nice pace.
  • I was tempted to use a refused flank at the start of the game when deploying my troops, but in the spirit of Featherstone et al, I tried to deploy in a 'historical' manner.
  • Dave's die rolling was pretty poor right across the game, whilst mine, for once, was pretty good. This allowed my cavalry to survive longer than they should have and to give my infantry time to form up form up to protect my right flank. On another day I might have been spend time trying to play catch up at the Huns rang rings around me. 
  • One good thing with the rules is that all of the Army lists are free online. No need for endless supplements. Just buy one book and away you go. 
  • In the book it recommends using a Base Unit for movement as half that of the unit frontage. So for our 40mm units this would result in 20mm. However we found that for our evening games using 40mm as the Base Unit for movement provides for a much quicker game. If time permits, I will try the recommended size at some point, just to see what effect that has on the game.

Hopefully the above points have been useful. I really think that these are a great set of rules and highly recommend them to anyone wishing to play Ancients though to the Middle Ages. They have certainly become my ruleset of choice for these periods and as mentioned at the start, will be used for an Imagi-Nations project later on this year.