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.

Thursday 31 August 2017

Two Hour Dungeon Crawl - First Thoughts

I had my first full play through of THW Games Design's Two Hour Dungeon Crawl tonight and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!  It is a very quick but challenging distillation of dungeon crawl rules.  It is based on familiar THW concepts - so lots of discrete simple tables to generate opposition and their reactions - but they are soon assimilitaed and game play becomes very quick indeed.  I imagine that one could get very proficient at these rules and the game would really rocket along.
As with all THW games that I am aware of, the most important mechanic is a test against the Reputation of the character (whether player or game controlled) to generate a number of successes.  The absolute or relative number of successes (depending on the situation) then determines what happens next.  It is quite a quick and bloody game: the dungeon I got through tonight would have taken my RPG group about 6 hours of play back in the 80s!  But make no mistake, this is not an easy game to win - there are many quick ways to die!  It is however a very easy game to play.
There are some pretty good and crucially quick systems for generating missions, opponents, magic items and loot and so forth; but the game architecture is so open that you could easily include or alter most of it to make the game you want.  There is no background 'fluff' as such, but there are plenty of stats for the archetypical fantasy races.  If you want to play with figures, this makes it easy to use whatever you happen to have; it is however perfectly possible to play it with pencils and paper only.  For this test, I used some miniatures and tiles for the combats, but designed and went through the dungeon on paper.

So, how did my mission go?

I had a party of 5 (all humans): a Rep 5 Knight/Caster (i.e. Mage); a Rep 4 Thief, a Rep 4 Soldier, A Rep 4 Soldier/Shooter (i.e. Archer) and a Rep 3 Knight/Caster.   That last one was an unusual combination of dice rolling.  My mission was to get rid of a big, bad Orc chieftain, who very unusually specialized in archery!  An Orcish Robin Hood figure, perhaps...anyway, my thief was killed by a trap, my soldier fell into a deep abyss and my soldier/shooter was killed in a fight; only the two knights escaping with lives, treasure and the head of the Orc...there were numerous interludes along the way - secret rooms found and explored, minions fought, a group of Elves enountered and pleasantries exchanged!

So a very encouraging start with these rules. The way threats are generated can be very deadly, which keeps the challenge level high, but the rules are simple enough to be grasped quite easily - a very important thing for the solo player who is playing one side and administering the other.

Just a few pictures, to give a little taster:

A large group of Goblins track down the intruding adventurers; our brave heroes get the drop on them however, as a crossbow bolt flies into the lead goblin...(goblins a mixture of GW's Lord of the Rings and some Heroquest goblins)

The other side: from the left, a Shield Wolf shield maiden; a Perry miniatures late C15 figure with female head, another Perry, a Perry Wars of the Roses billmen.  The thief had already been killed by this point!

Our heroes getting the better of this one, most of the goblins have been killed or are down, injured

The coup de grace...

Tuesday 29 August 2017

"Project Management"

"You make a Project Management blogpost which includes a list of projects you have / are working on / one day realistically intend to be working on. In the post you link back to the blog of the person that you got this idea from, like I have with Prufrock, and these instructions. That way we might get a chain effect of people discovering new blogs that they hadn't been following before. Or maybe just a bit of community bonding like the 'good old days'."

I saw the above on the Palouse Wargaming Journal and thought I'd give this a quick go... 

Actually the original idea was this:

Aaron, author of the fine wargaming blog, Here's No Great Matter, recently ruminated on the topic of when enough is enough when working down The Lead Pile (my term, not Aaron's).  Perhaps, I should name my unpainted lead behemoth in the basement something a bit more visual like "Godzilla?"  "Behemoth in the Basement" is not bad either.  Yeah, that would likely conjure up an image of the monster I face.

Back to Aaron and his thoughts on project management...

Aaron wonders out loud at what point he would be satisfied with his accrued painted armies.  When can one, with confidence and satisfaction, put down the paint brush and rest on one's laurels?  Aaron then proceeds to lay out an interesting and relatively long list of projects.  If finished, he would attain his desired, painting liberation.  Of course, a couple of additional Wish List projects are amended onto this list for good measure!  Aaron's prognosis is that he is about a third of the way to recovery to rid himself of this affliction.  Given his current state on the march towards nirvana, Aaron asks his readers where they fall along this (sometimes) forced march on the road to project completion.  Good question, Aaron! 

Well, I am on the almost there bit of the spectrum.  I wanted to be "pretty much done" by the time I was 40 (I'm 40 now) and I did more or less achieve this.  So this was the target:

1 - 6mm Napoleonics: British, French, Spanish, Russian, Austrian, Prussian and various allies.

2 - 6mm Ancients: Romans and Gauls/Britons

3 - 6mm Early Medieval: Saxons, Vikings and Normans

4 - 6mm Wars of the Roses: Lancastrians and Yorkists

5 - 6mm English Civil War: Royalists and Parliamentarians

6 - 6mm WW2: Germans and British

7 - 15mm WW2: Germans, British and US

8 - 28mm Fantasy: Variety

9 - 1/600 WW2 Aircraft: Germans and British 

10 - 28mm Space Hulk

11 - 28mm Napoleonics: French, British and Austrians (for skirmish)

And these have all been completed.  I have done one extra army in addition - 6mm Medieval Arabs.  I want to expand some of these armies a little: in particular I want some extra ECW troops - primarily horse, guns and Scots and eventually some more 1/600 aircraft; perhaps some more support troops for 15mm WW2; little bits and pieces for the 28mm fantasy stuff; maybe, out of pure nostalgia, some 28mm 40K things (but almost certainly not for 40K); possibly a few more 28mm Napoleonic skirmish troops. More importantly, I want to expand and improve the terrain for all these things.

As an acolyte of "Guru Dave" from the Meeples & Miniatures Podcast, I don't want to be constantly buying new stuff that I end up playing rarely or never: I want my toy soldiers to each get some campaigning done.  And I don't want big lead and plastic piles: I make a real effort to have no more unpainted things than I could paint up in their entirety if I took a week off work to do it.  I'll buy stuff when I am going to paint and play with it, not to stuff in my cupboard - I'll buy it when I need it.  And if the company unfortunately goes bust before I buy them...well, so what? I probably wouldn't even notice.

The main armies that might happen are 6mm colonial and WSS, maybe Russian WW2 too, with some 60s Cold War and Vietnam also an outside chance.  But I don't feel strongly enough about them to worry. As far as I am concerned, I have reached that nirvana state and anything I buy and paint now is because I fancy buying and painting it, not because I need it for a project.  The aim now is to play more games, partly to experiment with more rules - and eventually write more myself - but mostly to play and write more scenarios and campaigns.

Battlegames Campaign - Update

I have been doing a couple of other things this week, but looking to resume action in the campaign over the next day or two.  Hopefully however I have found a way that is a little better to display the current campaign situation:

ASAT: 8th May 1809
After the 2nd Battle of Martinstadt, the French army has retreated whilst the Austrian Army recovers around the capital city.  Both sides may suffer from attrition as a result of being too bunched up.

French Army:
1: 3 Div, Lt Cav Div
2: Gd Div, Arty Res, Siege Train
3: 1 Div, Gd Cav Bde, Drag Div
4: 2 Div
5: Garrison

Austrian Army:
1: Gren Div, Res Div, Siege Train
2: RearGd Div
3: 1 Div, 2 Div, 3 Div, Dragoon Div, Res Cav Bde
4: Garrison
5: Lt Cav Bde

Sunday 27 August 2017

Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun: The Brigade Game - First Thoughts

Okay, well, technically these are second and third thoughts since I have messed about with these a little before, but these are my first considered thoughts...

Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun contains many different sets of rules for tackling different aspects of Napoleonic warfare: 1:1 skirmish gaming (see a game here), a divisonal-level game, an army-level game, a campaign game, a siege game and a TEWT game.  As well as this, that rarest of things, a game designed for the player to be a brigade commander.  I'm not sure that I know of any other rules designed to be played with a handful of battalions and maybe a cavalry squadron or two.  The one perhaps closest, Scott Bowden's Chef de Bataillon, focuses on a single battalion in detail. Back in the 80s, one wise member of my club at the time felt that Newbury's Napoleonic rules were okay if you limited the forces to a strong brigade a side. One could do worse than use the Charles' Grant Napoleonic rules.  But I digress...

I set up a small scenario (on a terrain modified from Clontarf, of all things...) to test them out.  Three B-class Austrian battalions would take on two B-class French battalions occupying a hill. The aim of the game wasn't to use clever tactics or anything, just to go through the mechanics for each side.

I was using my 6mm Baccus Napoleonics which are based on 60mm x 30mm bases.  The rules are really designed for one base to be a half company (a section) but I thought that would be a bit cumbersome so I used battalions of four bases, so one base roughly represented a company.  The ground scale used 5cm = 10m.

One French Bn in line occupying the hill, with another one in reserve behind it; three Austrian battalions in column approach.

The Austrians coming onto the board

Another shot of the French!

Okay, each sub-unit within a unit has to take a morale test when the enemy is seen; two companies become 'shaken' and start firing wildly despite the Austrians being out of range

One Austrian company also becomes shaken

And another company in a diffferent battalion

Shaken sub-units cannot advance; so two Austrian battalions are trying to regain their order.  The central battalion continues its advance.  There is still some disorder within the French ranks.

A closer view of the Austrians

The Austrian Bn on the left (as seen) has rallied its shaken company and has begun to advance; the centre Bn is shaking out into line formation; the Bn on the right still has shaken companies.

The Austrians are advancing again, although the last Bn still hasn't rallied yet!

At 200m range, another morale test must be taken; both sides had a shaken company but the Austrians have sorted themselves out and resumed the advance; the French are still struggling to calm down

The Austrian line advanced and started exchanging fire; the French have finally got into order but have taken some losses (each red counter represents a loss of grade, so the French now have two companies which are now "D" class); the Austrian line has taken some losses too, and is shaken to boot.

The French brigadier tried to bring up his reserve battalion but its leading companies became shaken upon sighting the enemy; its commander is trying to rally them

Instead of rallying, the Austrian Bn in the rear has become progressively more shaken!

The firefight continues with further losses; the Austrian column tried to attack but failed to charge; it luckily avoided becoming shaken as a result

It tried again with some success and pushed the two left-hand French companies back down the hill, although its third company became shaken and didn't join the advance!  The remainder of the French line is looking distinctly shaky so unless the French brigadier can get the other battalion into action, then it is looking grim...

The French are taking more casualties; those with three markers are now permanently shaken and only of marginal use

A wider shot; you can see that the French reserve Bn has fallen into total disorder; the French were then swept away
Game Notes: Well that was very interesting.  I found it a fascinating exercise, playing at a level I have rarely gamed at, or seen gamed. The rules were pretty easy to follow, although not always perfectly organized (rules in one section seemed to fall better in other sections) and with a nasty typo in the firing chart.  However, easy enough to overcome this.  The basic mechanisms were great, with a tight focus on command (orders from brigadier to battalion commanders) and keeping units in order.  Disorder happens very easily (firing and changing formation causes disorder) and there are plenty of opportunities for units to become partly shaken.  This made for a game both playable and engrossing.
However, I have serious problems with some of the calibration of these rules, enough for me to wonder how much playtesting was done of the final versions.  Some things seemlike oversights: there is a reasonable chance of a draw in close combat, but no rules as to what should then happen, for instance.  But the biggest problem I have with the rules currently is this: B Class troops (so regular troops of all nations) have a roughly 20% chance per sub-unit of failing a morale check; the chance of rallying is 10% per turn.  Sub-units adjacent to the shaken sub-unit must then test for morale themselves.  Unless I am miscalculating something, then that makes it more likely that a unit will become entirely shaken once one sub-unit is than that the unit will rally!  I feel I must be missing or misinterpreting something but I'm not sure what...
Anyway, a fascinating game and highly recommended, but be prepared to do some mild tweaking to make it into a fully formed game.  In some ways, that comment might do for many things about wargaming that Paddy Griffith wrote!
One potential issue is that there aren't many published scenarios for this level of battle to my knowledge.  Some of the tabletop teasers series will be suitable, but otherwise some adaptation and thought might be needed (not bad things, obviously!)

Saturday 26 August 2017

Painting Desk 26 Aug 17

This isn't really a painting/modelling type blog, but here is what I am up to at the minute: just finishing off a box of Shield Wolf Miniatures Shieldmaidens and just starting to prep a big batch (c.400?) of Baccus 6mm ECW Horse...

The female fighters will probably find themsleves involved in the odd Heroquest quest and perhaps some Dragon Rampant, whilst the ECW Horse will be very busy in the last quarter of this year, refighting more of the battles of the ECW and resuming my ECW campaign.

The Battle of Roliça 1808 - A Polemos General de Division Refight

The Battle of Roliça - the first battle of Britain's involvement in the Peninsular War - has always been an inspiration to scenario writers.  There were two variants in early issues of Miniature Wargames, in issues 27 and 59 (so within 3 years), plus there was one in Wargames Illustrated 144 and there is one in Battlegames' Tabletop Teasers by Charles Grant; there have been others in the various books about wargaming the Peninsular War. 

 (incidentally, both of these issues were rather good generally; the author of the scenario in MW59, Arthur Harman, has a very interesting article in MW27 about using multi-purpose Napoleonic troops...)

Why so interesting?  The interest of "firsts", the relatively small numbers of troops involved in the fighting, although there were a rather larger number of British soldiers involved in the operations.  Anyway, without further ado - of which there will be plenty more in the Game Notes below - here is the scenario:

The Scenario: This is a two-phase battle (potentially); Delaborde's Division is occupying a defensive position based around a hill next to the village of Roliça.  Wellington can engage to try and break the position, but after 90 minutes (18 turns) Wellington's outflanking movements will arrive and force the withdrawal of Delaborde to a second position; this will then be repeated.  However, in the interests of a good game and to reflect something tricky about the historical battle, the victory conditions for Wellington are to force a victory before the turning movements are completed (they are thus there for insurance purposes).

The Anglo-Portuguese Army:

C-in-C: Gen Wellesley (Decisive)

Fane's Brigade: 1 x Veteran/Elite SK2 infantry base, 2 x Trained SK2 infantry bases, 1 x Trained light cavalry base

Nightingale's Brigade: 4 x Trained SK1 infantry bases, 1 x 6lb Ft Arty Bty

Hill's Brigade: 5 x Trained SK1 infantry bases

Craufurd's Brigade: 4 x Trained SK1 infantry bases, 1 x Raw light cavalry base, 1 x 9lb Ft Arty Bty

n.b. The artillery is an army-asset; does not count towards brigade morale and can be regrouped duting the battle

The French Army:

C-in-C: Gen Delaborde (Decisive)

Brennier's Brigade: 4 x Trained SK1 infantry bases

Meslier's Brigade: 2 x Trained SK2 infantry bases, 2 x Trained SK1 infantry bases

Cavalry: 2 x Trained light cavalry bases

Artillery: 1 x 8lb Foot Battery

Scenario Rules: Wellington has 18 turns (equivalent to 90 minutes) to take each position; Delaborde must count as losses any bases which do not have viable routes of retreat at these points - this is when Wellington's flanking columns would arrive.

The Terrain:

All hills are steep.  All watercourses are streams.  The set-up is mainly based on the map in Arthur Harman's article in MW059, although I think the map in the recent Mick Sayce book is the best.

The view from the West; the conifers on the left mark the first position, the conifers to the right of the stream mark the second position.  Roliça is on the left of the stream in the centre; Columbeira is by the stream (bottom) and Zambuçeira is on the right table edge, showing the French line of communication

The view towards the second position from the rear of Roliça hill

The position looked at from the North

And again, but from slightly further back

And the view from the East
 The Deployment:
Delaborde's Division occupies Roliça and the hill; a formidable position!  Delaborde has his cavalry in reserve

A closer view of Brennier's brigade

And the view from above and behind the French

And enter the first British columns!  Fane's brigade of riflemen to the left, Nightingale's Bde in the centre, Hill's Bde to the right

And a view from the west of the ground to be covered before the initial position
The Battle (first part):
Wellington develops his advance; note that Delaborde has advanced his cavalry to stop or delay the British flanking moves (the cavalry near the village forced the riflemen to wait for close-order supports before crossing the river)

Wellington has advanced to the foot of the hill to pin the main enemy position, but understandbly appears reluctant to attack

A more soldier's eye view

The Allies continue to advance, despite some delays caused by accurate French roundshot fire from the hill

Wellington prepares for three separate set-piece assaults - one against the village, one against the hill, one on the French left flank

The first assault goes in against the village (viewed from the hill); formed infantry stop the cavalry interfering with the riflemen as they assault the village in loose order

Another view of the same; note the smoke covering the French artillery battery indicating it needs a break!

Success!  The French light infantrymen defending the village are thrown back by the riflemen

The rest of the armies are still in position

The French cavalry near the village are beginning to suffer from musket fire (note the single figure denoting 'shaken')

The British artillery manages to force a gap in the "hinge" of the French position on the hill; seizing the initiative Gen Wellesley orders an immediate attack!  Note the shaken levels taken by the British infantry advancing over the steep slope

Wellington successfully leads the troops from Hill's Brigade up to the crown of the hill!

After some vicious fighting, the riflemen are slowly clearing the village of Roliça

With his right flank turned, Delaborde begins his withdrawal from the position by alternating battalions. 

Credit to the British infantry for succeeding, but the French were able to disengage in good order relatively easily

The French break contact
The Battle (second part):
The French adopt a similar but possibly even stronger position on the other side of the stream

Wellesley advances to get attack the French with some reluctance; the position is strong ans the British artillery cannot get enough elevation to fire at the French on the hill!

Same position, but this time one can see the British reserves in position too

With some trepidation, the British infantry cross the stream, observed by Gen Wellesley; Delaborde's infantry observe

Same position but one can see better the French depth

After several turns of largely ineffective musketry, Wellington picks his moment for a general advance

A bird's eye view along the line

The French line broadly holds; Wellington and some riflemen convince the French guns to retire slightly (left); but in the centre the British have been held with heavy losses; and on the British right, one battalion was routed by devastating French fire and the remaining units then despaired of success and withdrew!  Gen Hill's brigade is combat ineffective...Wellesley curses and orders the reserves forward

A wider shot to include Hill's withdrawing troops (bottom-right)

Second-time lucky!  On the second attack, although mainly repulsed as bloodily as before, some of Nightingale's infantry has managed to rout its opponents and punch a hole in the centre of the French line

Note the smattering of single-figures denoting shaken levels on both sides; both armies are suffering (although the British distinctly more!)

Wellington spurs his horse into the centre to take personal charge!  He re-organizes the men and puts a successful attack in on the rest of Brennier's Bde (bottom); Delaborder tries to rush his reserves to the scene

Brennier's Brigade's morale collapses!  Delaborde decides he is too weak to successfully counterattack the foothold and declines to order an assault; Wellington hurries more infantry up the steep slope

There will be no stopping the British now the French left flank is turned

The outnumbered French cavalry and infantry are forced back towards their lines of communication; the French must withdraw before they are cut off
 Game Results: Both sides had an infantry brigade defeated but probably the British lost more overall in the fighting; like the real thing, the French would probably have lost some more men and guns in the pursuit, so probably quite close to history. 

Game Notes: Roliça is a very interesting battle to refight because of the pressure it puts on certain parts of the rules; if the rules make woods and hills too formidable, then the British cannot win and more importantly, would never try.  Perhaps I can make an analogy with cavalry attacking squares - if the rules make the penalties too severe, the cavalry will never try it.  So there is a sweet spot where the odds will allow such attacks to succeed sometimes, which will encourage risk taking players to give it a go, if there seems sufficient reason to take the risk.  Conversely, some rules make it very difficult for units to withdraw; if that is so, the first part of the battle will always result in either the French giving up before contact or them being defeated in the first position because they can't withdraw.
Anyway, as mentioned in previous posts, I have been experimenting with the factors in Polemos.  Polemos proposes a +2 modifier for the uphill troops; then proposes that troops moving up steep hills are automatically shaken.  This makes the total +4 to the troops defending uphill, but is even worse than this sounds (remember the basic combat mechanic is a DBx-esque opposed D6 die roll) because being shaken has specific penalties in terms of combat outcomes.  The two soundest defensive tactics in Polemos are point-blank fire and holding fire: point-blank because there is a fair chance that the volley will cause 2 shaken levels (the maximum) or automatically rout the target, the downside being that the firing unit will often take a shaken level itself; holding fire is brilliant against a 'shaken' attacker, because on a pretty much even split, the attacker will fall abck even more shaken without having to do anything.  The neat effect in the combat results in Polemos however is that a draw at no or moderate shaken levels, favours the attacker; but with that automatic shaken level, it makes it even harder for the attacker to win.  It was even worse in this battle, since the defenders were occupying woods and rocky ground too!
What I therefore proposed is to reduce the basic 'uphill' bonus to +1, with this giving an effective swing on steep hills of 3 (+1 for uphill, +2 for shaken).  Overall this seemed to work "okay" and give a reasonably historical result; although I can quite see why Wellington in reality declined to attack at all (the frontal assault was initiated by the commanding officer of the 29th who charged in spite of orders not to do so - he paid with his life, regrettably).  One tactic not open to a Polemos general is attrition; there is simply no mechanic to reflect that.  I know that some DBx players argue that lack of PIPs is "attrition"; I have serious doubts about that in a DBA context but do see the logic, but in Polemos, if you aren't causing damage of some sort, you probably aren't causing the opposing general too much worry about lack of tempo points.  Because all fire combat not carried out in the context of defending against an attack is considered  as long range fire (-2) and the firer needs at least a +2 result to cause a single point of damage (i.e. a 4-pint swing) it is pretty difficult to achieve even by randomness.  I think there may be a case for having another look at the modifiers for fire combat in the context of Polemos to make fire combat slightly more worthwhile.
Those of you familiar with the real battle will notice that there are considerably more infantry units in my order of battle than there were in reality.  The reason for this is that the battalions on both sides were particularly large (nearly 1000) so I stuck with a standard Polemos base = c.400 men, so these larger battalions were represented by two bases.  This actually chimed in quite nicely with the events of the real battle, which seemed to involve groups of companies as much as battalions.  With the exception of the 95th, I made pretty much everyone a bog-standard "Trained".  There is an argument that nearly half of the British battalions should be "Veteran" since they had had reasonably extensive campaigning experience with some combat in Northern Europe, the Americas, South Africa and so on.  This would obviously make the British task slightly easier.
I used a mixture of information for this scenario, but the basis of it was the Arthur Harman article.  The Carl Reavey scenario is okay.  The Mick Sayce mini-book is pretty good as a neat summary of the relevant information. There are quite a few eye-witness accounts too.
The game was played on a 6'x4' mat using Baccus 6mm Napoleonic figures and Total Battle Miniatures and Timecast buildings.