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.

Friday, 30 December 2016

End of Year Review 2106

Well as another year draws to a close, it's time for some reflection on what worked, what didn't and some plans for next year. So with out further ado...
Rules Bought
Sword & Spear 2nd Edition.

Horizon Wars 
Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames 
Neil Thomas' Wargaming 19thC Europe 
Neil Thomas' Napoleonic Wargaming 
Neil Thomas' Ancient & Medieval Wargaming
Black Ops
Captain General 
Sharp Practice 2
The Men Who Would Be Kings 
Charles Wesencrafts With Pike & Shotte
Charles Wesencrafts Practical Wargaming  
Charge! or How to Play Wargames by Young and Lawford
D Featherstones War Games
Battlegroup by Warwick Kinrade

In the end I bought way more rulebooks than I had planned. Sword & Spear 2 was as a result of playing a game with my friend Craig. I was very impressed with the simple game mechanics, which frankly appeals to me these days. I had tried 'Hail Caesar!' but found it too complicated compared to 'Black Powder'. I may revisit these rules at some point but S&S 2 ticks all the boxes at present, including free Army Lists which is a rarity these days.

Neil Thomas' OHW book had been on my list for some time so I went ahead and ordered it. It is an interesting book that I think helps you define what you do and don't like in wargames rules. These I found too simple for my tastes, but the author makes his case very well. A perfect set of rules to introduce new gamers to wargaming and the scenarios are a great resource for future games. On the other hand his other books I think are great and fit in with the sort of games Iike to play. I look forward to trying these out in more detail next year.

Sharp Practice 2 was again as a result of a game with Craig. We had both been ultimately disappointed in Chain of Command, which although a great set of rules, didn't give us a game we enjoyed. I was unsure of SP 2 as "once bitten, twice shy", but these rules gave us a really fun game, with lots of action. Again I look forward, with luck, to giving these more of a go next year.

Having grown up in a village with limited access to town and a wargames shop, my early wargaming literature consisted of the Airfix magazine guides, especially Bruce Quarries WWII Wargaming. So this year I decided to buy the early wargames books that I missed out on as a child. An I'm glad that I did. So far they have been a joy to read (I'm still in the early stages of reading them) and I have been impressed with Wesencrafts books in particular. So much so that I may try out some of his rules along with those of Featherstone et al. 

Wargaming Books Bought
Bloody Big European Battles scenario book

Osprey Essential History of the American Civil War (belated Xmas present)
Osprey History of the American War of Independence
Scenarios for Wargames by CS Grant
The Road to Koniggratz by Q Barry
Osprey Pike & Shotte Tactics 
War Games Through the Ages: Volume Two 1420 to 1783  by D Featherstone
War Games Through the Ages: Volume One 3000BC to 1500AD  by D Featherstone 
Battle Notes for Wargamers by Featherstone 
Featherstone's Complete Wargaming
The Decisive Battle of the Western World, volume 1 by JFC Fuller
Colonial Wars Sourcebook by Haythornthwaite
Queen Victoria's Little Wars by Byron Farwell
Fight for the Throne: the '45 Reconsidered by Duffy 
Napoleonic Source Book  by Haythornthwaite
Tony Bath's Setting Up a Wargames Campaign

As with the wargames rules above, I bought way more than planned. Most as a result of wanting to read up on new periods to help fill in gaps in my general knowledge. Some, such as the Colonial Wars, to act as background reading for a future campaign using 'The Men Who Would Be Kings' rules. 
Figures Bought
Leven Miniatures buildings

Pendraken Goblins for Dragon Rampant 
Pendraken WWII Polish 
Zvezda 1/144th I -16 plane 
Imagi-Nations Ancients from Pendraken

Susprisingly little this year, but then given the size of my lead mountain, I really didn' need to buy anything! The release of the Pendraken WWII Polish range was a highlight, as I have been wanting to game this period for a few years now.

Warbands, Battlegroups or Armies Painted

Juraped Riders for KR -16 
RDF Force for KR -16
Additions to AVBCW Battlegroups  for BKCII
Leven Miniatures North European & Italian buildings
Additions to British WWII Battlegroup for BKCII 
Fallschirmjager Battalion for BKCII 

Once again my painting output has been rather low again this year. Depsite wanting to paint more this year my mojo just hasn't been there. When it has it always seems as if work will suddenly get in the way and then my enthusiasm wanes or else, in typical wargames butterfly mode, my attention wanders to another project or period. For example I started two forces for Dragon Rampant and The Pikemen's Lament, only for them to be based and then left in the box for months. All I can say is that I hope the forthcoming year is more productive.
Dragon Rampant Warbands

Poland '39 Battlegroups for BKCII

Failed utterly on these. Enough said.

Games Played 

Bloody Big Battles - 13
Honours of War - 8
Songs of Arthur & Merlin - 1 
Sword & Spear - 5
Lion Rampant - 5
One Hour Wargames - 2
Wargaming 19th C Europe - 1 
Sharp Practice 2 - 1 
KR-16 - 3 
BKCII - 1 
Black Powder - 1

Not a bad year, but more patchy than last year, due to Dave and I not being able to meet up as regularly as before. However BBB and HoW both continued to give challenging and enjoyable games. Next year I hope to get in more games of BKCII as I do really enjoy the rules and getting tanks on the table. Now that I have a Fallschirmjager Battalion completed, I have more options open to me than before.

Wargames Shows Attended
Reveille II  

Certainly a quiet year on the show front. I had wanted to attend Colours, but family commitments prevented me. Also these days I find I'm less drawn to attending shows for a variety of reasons. I'm not alone in this as it has been discussed to varying degrees on the few forums that I visit. Broadly speaking when I go to a show I would like to see:
  • A good mix of games. I know 28mm makes for good eye candy, but it would be nice for the show organisers to try and make sure that there are a broad range of scales on show.
  • Actually see games being played with information on the game and for people to talk to about the game, scenario, rules etc.
  • A good mix of traders, that like the first point above, is not all 28mm and MDF buildings.
  • Personally I like to see some re-enactors at a show as it breaks things up a bit.
  • The ability to park easily. Warfare is a case in point where, frankly, it is a nightmare.
Now I know that I'm in a minority in gaming 10mm and smaller, but others have expressed similar points, so I'm not alone. Next year I may attend Salute if helping out on a table and my friends and I plan to attend the Derby show as we have been meaning to for several years now. Colours is on the list as always, so let's hope family commitments don't get in the way.
End of Year Thoughts
So looking back on the year it seems a bit of a funny one, with my gaming being very stop/start due to the reasons outlined above. Certainly I noticed that I painted very little and somewhat irregularly. Finding the time, talk less of the energy, in the evenings has been hard this year. The one burst of painting I did have was when I had a week off and the house to myself during the day that allowed me to finish off my Fallschirmjagers. Sadly I do not have a dedicated painting space, so have to wait until the kitchen is clear before I can move in.

Next year I want to try and spend more time painting, if at all possible. Most likely on fairly small projects so that I can complete them in a resonable time. I have some planned Imagi-Nations forces in progress for use with Sword & Spear 2 that I hope to have finished fairly quickly, so that I can start a mini-campaign with them. It would be nice to finally get a German Battalion sorted for BKCII so that I can do some Early War games, which then might spur me onto the Poles. As always, so many plans, so little time...

So Happy New Year to one and all and looking forward to 2017.  

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A Clash at Kutzdorf - A Black Powder Napoleonic AAR

Being able to meet up for a game over the past few weeks had been a bit of an issue for Dave and I, which seems to have become a bit of a theme this year. However last night we were able to get together and we decided upon giving Dave's newly painted Napoleonic Prussians a bit of a run out as it was all a bit short notice. We plumped for 'Black Powder' as the ruleset, mainly because we could set up a simple game without any real pre-game prep. In terms of scenario Dave came up with the good idea of using one from the 'Honours of War' ruleset. The 'Clash at Kutzdorf' offered a nice sized game so we settled for this and simply used the OOB pretty much as written. Victory conditions were simply drive the enemy from the field. Simples.

Both sides deployed as per the scenario, with the stream delineating the table edge. The French were designated as the Attackers and therefore got go first. I did not have the time to make notes during the game, so some annotated photos (sorry for the poor quality but I forgot to turn on the flash!) will hopefully suffice.

Both sides deployed for battle, with the French on the left, the Prussians the right.
The French push forward, as do the Prussian cavalry. The Prussian Brigade on the bottom hill fail their order when they really needed to get moving.
The French advance.
The French have stormed forward ready to assault the units on the top hill. The Prussians finally move off the bottom hill, albeit rather slowly.
Both sides exchange artillery fire, with a Prussian unit taking a hit and becoming Disordered.
The French Guard cavalry Blunder forward.
The French assault the top hill, whilst the cavalry admire each other and the Prussians struggle forward, somewhat aware of the two rather nasty guns facing them.
The French assaults go in across the hill, but first blood to the Prussians as a French Guard unit breaks and flees the table.
The Prussian cavalry gain a moral vicotry as they break a Guard cavalry unit. However on the hill things are not looking too rosy.
The Prussian cavalry gain the upper hand, but the Prussian infantry brigade find it hard to advance in the face of the French guns.
Prussians all lined up but no where to go.
Two thirds of the Prussian Brigade breaks and flee down the hill. Not good to say the least.
The cavalry continue to knock the living daylights out of each other, whilst the infantry battle continues.
As the cavalry continue their grudge match, the Prussian Brigade tries to advance, but achieves little.
The remnants of the Prussian Brigade must fall back, but do so in good order, despite being persued by the French, who in turn are Shaken.
The Prussians, seeing that the game is up, start an orderly withdrawl.
The Prussians pull back.
A view from the hill towards the wood that divided the battlefield.

Post Game Thoughts
Well for a quickly set up game, we had great fun and it all played out pretty well. Apart from the Prussians losing of course! So as always a few thoughts on the game:

  • To be honest we were both a little unsure about playing 'Black Powder', as previous games hadn't been too much fun, compared to the likes of 'Honours of War' and 'Bloody Big Battles'. We were both pleasantly suprised at how well the game played and had little recourse to the rules. We may have got a few things wrong, but to be honest this didn't bother us during the game.
  • We did make a few house rules, which may have led to it being a better game. Quite simply at the start we decided to use alternate Brigade activition and rolling for Fire Inititative as per 'Honours of War'. This worked really well and made for a much better game and added a nice level of friction to the game. Hats off to Keith Flint for these and he is to be commended for these simple yet effective rules mechanisms.
  • The scenario worked well but the wood between the two hills effectively split the table into two areas, which allowed the French to defeat the Prussians in detail, or at least that's how it felt. At least the Prussians we able to retreat in relatively good order, as the French, despite being in command of the field, were somewhat bloodied which would have made pursuit more difficult.
So that's it for Dave and I gaming this year, as we both head off towards our respective 'Winter Quarters'. Next year we plan to kick things off with the same scenario, but using 'Bloody Big Battles' as the ruleset. It will be interesting to see how these work for a smaller and non-historical scenario. Our gut feeling is that they will work perfectly well and hopefully lead to some smaller scale games such as this in the future. I still hope to get in a few more games, whether solo or with friends before the New Year, but only time will tell if I'm able to achieve this.