Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

With a spotted handkerchief tied to the end of a stick...

...I'm off wandering again.  Hopefully normal service will be resumed in a couple of months!

Sunday 27 September 2015

Book Review: Normandy 1944, German Military Organization, Combat Power & Organizational Effectiveness

This is a formidable piece of work, very well-researched with clear and well-presented analysis. The author aims to use German sources to redress the balance in the story of the events in the Battle of Normandy 1944. It covers the available German sources, a guide to German terminology, the organization of German combat units, the numbers of German troops employed in Normandy and the number of casualties they took, the German tank and assault gun-types used, the movements of German troops to Normandy and a brief organizational history of all the German formations that fought in the battle. The latter in particular will be very useful to enthusiasts for the era, presenting much useful information on the more obscure units involved. The author also examines the effects of Allied air power and the relative efficiency of German units and Allied ones.
For those interested in understanding the battle in a sophisticated way, this book is invaluable. I would extend this further: much of the current Western understanding of peer-to-peer combat has its basis in understanding the fighting in Western Europe in 1944 and some of this work will give those readers much to ponder over. An example of this is the author's finiding on the relative efficiency of tanks vs anti-tank guns against tanks. All the other works that I have read on this subject have tended to the view that anti-tank guns are the (much) superior tank-killers. Even recent reports (e.g. from the fighting in Georgia) indicate this. However, Zetterling's examination of German claims indicate that German tank crews were claiming more than anti-tank crews. Of course, this is not a definitive refutation: it may be simply that tank crews are more subject to overclaiming than anti-tank crews (I believe that bomber crews similiarly over-claimed in comparison to fighter pilots) or that given certain relative capabilities of tanks, then the utility of tanks versus anti-tank guns may change considerably. However, it points to a useful area for further study. This is only an example, there are a further examples of the kind.
I must note that I find a certain pro-German bias in Zetterling's work. This is not any kind of overt pro-Nazism, but rather that he seems to naturally adopt pro-German/anti-Western findings: perhaps this is a response to the many overtly pro-Allied - in particular pro-American - popular histories that have been written. For instance, he is at pains at one point to say that German figures should be discounted when evaluating relative combat efficiency because they did not contribute to the actual operations of the Army Group. Fair enough. But then he uncritically uses the full Allied strength for his calculations in Normandy, appearing to ignore the vast rear-echelon that was needed to conduct operations in Normandy at all. Similarly he notes that in general German soldiers surrendered more often to the Western Allies than the Russians with the exception of the big encirclements on the Eastern Front. But he doesn't consider the argument that the number of prisoners generally is simply a function of victory: the author has unconsciously given agency to German soldiers where non may actually exist and at the same time missed an important indicator of Allied efficiency. He accuses the Allied official history of lying but generally finds German officers reliable...except where they say that their units suffered heavy casualties, which he then uses partial strength returns to "disprove". And so on. None of this renders the book less useful and interesting, far from it, I merely note them to show counter-arguments that occurred to this reader whilst reading the book. As he himself notes, this book indicates very many useful areas for further research and analysis and he has very usefully shown where some received wisdom is simply wrong.
The book is extremely well-written with clear and extensive referencing. I highly recommend it to those interested in this campaign, or in WW2 or modern warfare in general. Enthusiasts, historians, military professionals and wargamers will all find much of interest here.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Polemos ECW - Battle of Auldearn 1645

As an introductory solitaire game to help me to learn the Polemos ECW rules, I've had a go at doing Auldearn 1645.

Auldearn 9th May 1645:

Royalist Order of Battle:
C-in-C: Montrose (Good)
2 Veteran bases of Infantry (Shot only)
2 Veteran bases of Infantry (Shot Heavy)
2 Trained bases of Horse (Swedish Tactics)

Covenanter Order of Battle:
C-in-C: Hurry (Average)
1st Foot Brigade (English Regular Infantry):
4 Trained bases of Infantry (Shot Heavy)
2nd Foot Brigade
3 Raw bases of Infantry (Mixed)
3 Raw bases of Horse (Dutch Tactics)
4 bases of Light Guns

Each base of foot represents around 400-500 men, each base of horse about 100-120 troopers.  1 gun model represents 2 real guns.

Scenario: This scenario is designed as a simple solitaire game with small forces to learn the Polemos ECW rules.  It is based upon the scenario in Donald Featherstone’s book “Wargaming Pike and Shot”.

I use the system for tempo bidding in solitaire games described in my blog here:
This basically results in each side rolling D6 to bid initially, deducted from a base total of 7 Tempo Points.

As this game is a learning scenario, use more-or-less the same tactics for the Covenanters as they adopted in real-life.  The 1st Brigade should attack the village of Auldearn whilst the Brigade of Horse advances to occupy the hill to the South of the village.  The Covenanters were unaware of the presence of Montrose’s troops hidden behind this hill until Montrose launched his attack, so the Covenanters in the game should not react until they become visible.  The 2nd Brigade should be deployed as a reserve, with the artillery in the rear.  From the point where Montrose unleashes his hidden troops, try and fight both sides as hard as possible.

All slopes are gentle.  The village has a DV value of 2.

The battlefield, looking South to North.  Montrose has an infantry unit on Castle Hill (NW of the village), an infantry unit in the village itself, with the remainder of his forces out-of-sight behind the ridge at the SE.

Hurry's Covenanters marching from the West.  The regular infantry in the lead (in red), the levy infantry (blue) and artillery behind, horse on the southern flank.

From the South East (behind Montrose, bottom centre)

Same position, lower angle

Covenanters advance and deploy.  As in the historical battle, the artillery is left behind initially

Covenanter Horse advance unawares into Montrose's trap

Same position, looking directly East to West

Hurry leads his foot to attack the village!  The veteran Irish are going to take some shifting...Note that Montrose's infantry on Castle Hill begin to advance towards Hurry's second line, in a typically bold move!

The trap is sprung! Montrose routs two-thirds of the Covenanter Horse...;just!  The red shaken markers speak to the intensity of the cavalry combat.

From directly behind Montrose, about to pursue into the valley

Hurry's foot are thrown back from the village and are regrouping.  One battalia of Hurry's levies are grimly holding the Covenanter left flank (note the red shaken marker), whilst the remainder of the Levy brigade face the Royalist cavalry.

A famous advance!  Covenanter levies have seen off the Royalist cavalry and Montrose has had to scamper behind his foot.  Hurry's troops have forced entry into the outskirts of the village

Montrose restores the situation and continues his advance.  The Covenanter left flank has folded and the regulars have been unable to get any further forward into Auldearn.  The Covenanter right flank is now about to come under severe pressure too!

Same position, slightly different shot.  Hurry conceded at this point, his only aim now being to escape the jaws of Montrose's pincers!
 Game Notes: A really enjoyable test game, with victory quite closely balanced until the end.  Hurry was defeated as in the original battle, but perhaps did rather better than in real life.  Horse is very vulnerable whilst pursuing in these rules.  But overall, the quality of Montrose's foot told.  I hope to refight this again soon, but instead using the slightly different scenario recently published in WSS 78.  This scenario was played on a 3'x2' table using Baccus 6mm ECW figures (I used English ECW figures, I don't (yet!) own Covenanter or Highlander armies - yet more heresy!).

Book Review - Class Wargames

 A Review of Class Wargames: Ludic Subversion Against Spectacular Capitalism

A very interesting and unusual book! In part it is a history of Alice Becker Ho's and Guy Debord's wargame "The Game of War", in part a history of a left-wing Situationist group's presentation of this game as participatory art with a useful sideline in military strategic training. It was both a little amusing and disconcerting to read about a wargame in language I personally associate more strongly with Marxist literary criticism. More seriously, the book's authors interpret Debord's work as having the explicit aim of teaching the "craft skills" of military leaders; this is quite an unusual point of view amongst hobby wargamers, who tend to emphasize either the escapist or 'historical' possibilities of wargaming. This is complementary to the idea that such play - in and of itself  is subversive, partly from the fact of proletarians being at play, partly playing at something which has traditionally been the preserve of an eilte.  The book aims to explain - partly from general knowledge of Debord and his work, partly from discoveries during the process of presenting participatory art - the importance of the game to Debord and its importance more generally to the proletariat. In this it is successful, being very convincing on this point. In essence, the authors conclude that Debord successfully simplified and abstracted Clauswitzian problems into his game - which they conclude was also the reason why Debord themed his game in the "horse-and-musket" period rather than something more obviously "revolutionary". The book also describes the group's use of other wargames - Red Against Red (to examine aspects of the Russian Civil War) and Commands and Colors: Napoleonics (to examine the Haitian uprising against Napoleon's forces) - and the results of their enquiries. It was striking that - very untypically for wargaming - the players were from both sexes.  There are more details about all of this on the group's website, Class Wargames.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in just why Debord was so interested in playing a "toy-soldier" game and to gamers interested in another way of viewing the actualities and possibilities of wargaming.

Saturday 19 September 2015

Battle of Ashdown 871AD

I've just returned from a pressing work commitment and I thought I'd ease myself back into gaming with a quick DBA battle.  This one, the Battle of Ashdown 871AD, was based on a scenario published in Miniature Wargames 005, written by Ian Greenwood.  The terrain and the forces are simple: the Vikings defending a hill with a tree on it from an Anglo-Saxon army.  As is typical for this era and region, the forces present are a matter of speculation.  I followed the suggestions in the article and made the Anglo-Saxons a little stronger, choosing a 12-base Anglo-Saxon army and a 10-base Viking army from the appropriate army lists in DBAv3.  I don't have a specifically Viking army.  I could have used Anglo-Saxons for both sides, but to differentiate the armies more easily, I used Ancient Britons.  This is heretical gaming, after all...I used DBA v3, although with some misgivings: I wasn't sure that the mechanisms would give an appropriate flavour for "Dark Age" combat.

Anglo-Saxon Army (III/24b):
1 x General (Blades), 2 x Hird (Blades), 8 x Fyrd (Spearmen), 1 x Archers (Psiloi)

Viking Army (III/40b):
1 General & Huscarls (Blades), 8 x Hird (Blades), 1 x Archers (Psiloi)

The key tactical factors in the real battle were the hill which the Vikings defended and the surprise that Alfred achieved by attacking early.  For each scenario I gave Alfred's troops (but not Ethelred's) a free move.  For the second scenario, I gave Alfred's troops an extra +1 in their first round of close combat.

The First Battle:

Anglo-Saxons deployed on the flat, Vikings on the hill.  As in the historical battle, both sides are divided into two contingents.

Close-up of the Vikings

The armies engage.  Alfred's contingent (on the left) attacked first, trying to outflank the opposing Vikings.  Ethelred's contingent (on the right) then attacked.

Basically the armies clashed and pushed each other back-and-forth, trying to create a gap to exploit...

A similar back-and-forth struggle on the other side of the hill...

Every time the Anglo-Saxons thought they were about to breakthrough or outflank, the Vikings manage to plug the gap.

Alfred's forces pushed back off the slopes of the hill...

The Vikings push back the Saxon shieldwalls...

The detail of the Saxon right: Saxon thegns try and stem the advance

The Anglo-Saxon left collapses, leading to the break of the army
 The Second Battle:
Reset with a slightly different deployment on both sides.  There wasn't a useable photo of the other flank, unfortunately.  Very few photos came out of this second battle.

In this re-fight, the Anglo-Saxons concentrated their efforts on the left flank, Ethelred's troops merely demonstrating on the right

At the right moment, the Anglo-Saxons increase the pressure on both flanks.  The Vikings fight fiercely and Alfred finds it difficult to push them back

The Vikings finally collapse as they are flanked on both sides
 Game Notes: Both games were quite exciting, despite my initial misgivings that the games might be boring.  Neither army really supports much manoeuvre.  The Anglo-Saxon spearmen have a tough time against the Viking blades: the extra +1 for surprise made a big difference in the second game as it enabled the Anglo-Saxon army to achieve a couple of quick kills, which then enabled them to get more overlaps later on.  Without it, they never really got much purchase on the Viking army in the first battle.  The other mistake I made in the first game was to keep the Anglo-Saxon general in reserve: the extra +1 is vital to increasing the chances of that all-important first break through.  The interest in the game was mainly where to push and how hard - with a couple of small but important bits of manoeuvre mixed in.