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 14 January 2021

Book Review: Donald Featherstone's Complete Wargaming

 Donald Featherstone's Complete Wargaming:

A couple of years ago, when I was recording 'All the Stuff I Own' for this blog, I noticed that I had Donald Featherstone's Complete Wargaming on my Kindle, but couldn't remember anything about it!  Over Christmas and New Year I did get around to

This book was first published in the 1980s with the same material, but in a different format which was organized for page-space rather than sense, so it read (IIRC – it was over 25 years ago) more like a children’s encyclopedia, with little sidebars and so on giving snippets of information about things only tangentially, if it all, related to the main contents of a given page.  Anyway, this book has been republished by John Curry who, along with wargaming hobby luminary Arthur Harman, has re-edited it too.

This book is aimed at both the beginning and the veteran wargamer by providing background to the various wargame periods to enable them to be recreated, if not ‘realistically’, then with more realism of tactics, not to gain “profound military insight, but…(to) gain an understanding of the problems of the commanders in the field and a glimpse of the military thinking of the time”.  He does this by describing the background to the warfare and battles of various periods and tries to explain how they can be recreated on the tabletop, to serve both as a game and as something which strongly reflects the real engagement on which it is based.  He then looks at how history can be changed during the game, by use of what he calls 'military possibilities': specific events that might have changed the course of the battle by either modifying the starting conditions or a specific big thing going differently during the battle itself.  Although I greatly respect Don Featherstone as a rules writer and a scenario designer, I have never quite understood his use of ‘military possibilities’; these seem to be things that a commander might have chosen instead during the battle, or ways the scenario might have been altered (e.g. by nearby forces marching to the sound of the guns and participating in the refight, when they hadn’t done so in the original battle).  He basically believes that if the rules and the scenario are designed correctly, then the course of the wargames action will largely follow the original.  I disagree with this on both theoretical (war does not appear to be highly determined) and practical (Any game that uses dice and human inputs isn’t going to follow a pre-determined course for very long) grounds. He also includes ‘chance cards’ as a way of introducing these ‘military possibilities’ into the game.  

There is an interesting passage explaining the author’s dislike of rules which forbid certain tactics, for example rules which insist that infantry may only charge in column or that bodies of light infantry must always keep a formed reserve.  In Featherstone’s opinion, the rules should be written in such a way as that the tactical practices which succeeded on the battlefield should be most useful generally in the game.  I think that I may once have believed this, but don’t now.  Historically, if one tactic was always used by an army, except in very specific circumstances, then I believe that that army should be forced to use it on the tabletop, except in those specifically defined circumstances.  Otherwise, one of two things happen:

1 – There is a meta-game whereby the gamer works out what the writer thought that the historical army did historically, then does that.

2 – The gamer works out what the most effective tactics are in the rules and just does that.

A good example of this is the Vic formation used by RAF fighters in the early period of World War Two.  There is no way that a player is ever going to voluntarily choose to use them, and there is no way to write historical rules so that they are superior to the rotte/schwarm system developed by the Germans prior to this period, so the only way to get the RAF player to use them is to force them.  Later, Featherstone seems to cede the point by insisting that the Peninsular War should be fought with the British in line and the French in column.

However, his following design notes in terms of how to balance ranges, rates of fire and movement distances can be recommended almost without qualification, as can his suggestions for testing rules. I might not make casualty determination the base effect, preferring morale instead, but that is a relatively small point (since in many rules casualties = morale loss).

This chapter is followed by some discussion of how to incorporate surprise, the fog of war and friction into wargames. Some of the solutions seem more practical than others, although I think it is fair to say that all of them come at some cost in complexity or sheer faff: umpires, map moves, distance from the table, programmed moves, the (in)famous ‘matchbox method’ and so on are all discussed.

Various other specific wargaming problems are discussed: urban battles, incorporating weather, treachery, incorporating civilians, surrenders and prisoners.  Terrain is considered in terms of tactical usage and construction and set-up tips.  All these discussions include example rule suggestions and suggestions as to how the physical incorporation of the particular element may be included in the

The next section discusses how to translate various epochs of warfare onto the tabletop, using an example scenario.  Chariot warfare is discussed in general, then specifically through Qadesh.  The form of the scenarios is very similar to that used in his “Wargaming Pike and Shot”, with some historical background on the strategic position and the fighting styles employed.  A map of the action is included and is followed by notes on reconstructing the battle, the abilities of the commanders, the numbers and skills of the troops involved and their morale.  A separate ‘wargames map’, which simplifies the terrain into something quite easy to set-up is included, along with some notes on the terrain itself.  A set of the ‘military possibilities’ as discussed previously, specific to the battle, is given.    This is replicated for Classical warfare via Cynoscephelae, Medieval warfare via Morlaix, C18 warfare via Guildford Courthouse, Napoleonic warfare via the Combat on the Coa, Colonial warfare via Modder River, Airborne operations via Eban Emael, Commando operations via St. Nazaire.

Pike & Shot period warfare, the American Civil War and WW2 tank warfare are also partly examined, but do not have attached scenarios.  Rules suggestions for chariots, elephants, condottieri, Napoleonic column vs. line engagements, ambushes and pom-pom guns are included, seeming to be the sort of thing the author imagines could be easily grafted on to a player’s existing set. An entire set of rules is also given for the American Civil War.

Lastly, the Hundred Years’ War battle of Auberoche is examined as a scenario in itself, and then transposed to the Napoleonic and World War Two periods.  I am sure that I have seen this scenario somewhere before, but more importantly, it looks a terrible scenario with not that much for the French player to do apart from get beaten!  It actually looks a better scenario when transposed into WW2, since the Germans should have a better chance against the British paratroopers.

This last point raises another: Featherstone has quite a Romantic view of warfare in areas in which he wasn’t involved personally.  He seems to get slightly over-wrought and let his enthusiasms run away with him when writing about English and Welsh longbowmen, British Napoleonic light infantrymen and riflemen and the Yankees and ‘Jonny Rebs’ of the American Civil War: I found the history here quite partial and sometimes misleading where the enthusiasm for the ‘period’ distorts things somewhat.  On the other hand, his remarks about the Desert War (which he fought in) were absolutely spot on. One interesting point about the that is he describes the British desert colour scheme (presumably referring to the Caunter scheme?) as pinkish sand with battleship grey and brown stripes, which is a bit different to how I have usually seen it represented on models.

This book is what it is: a collection of essays on quite different aspects of wargaming put together to form a not-very cohesive whole.  It is anything but ‘complete’ – it is rather like a very extended magazine, given a unity of tone since every article is written by a single author, but without a real unity of purpose, so the value of the book can never be of greater value to the reader than that of its constituent chapters.  On the flip side to that, there is at least something for everyone in there, and what is in there is usually sensible and well-written, founded in the experiences of a very practical veteran gamer who has a great sense for what will and won’t work on a miniature battlefield.


The Gallic War 56-55 BC

 A campaign journal covering two years here, since I thought I had written one for 56BC but it turned out later that I hadn't...

56 BCE:

56BC began with Caesar ordering the XIII Legion and the Treveri to subdue the Menapi (which they did easily) and the Allobroges and Helvetii to invade the territory of the Sequani.  After besieging the Sequani's key fortress, the area was subdued and only a small rump of the Sequani escaped.  Ariovistus tried to persuade the Allobroges to desert Caesar, but this failed.  Caesar then continued operations with his Gallic allies, as the Mandubi and Helvetii again invaded the territory of the Leuci, to subdue it and them, and defeat their German allies.  The Leuci retreated, but then re-invaded with the help of some German allies.  In the resulting battle , the Germans were victorious.

His military plans having temporarily failed, Caesar turned to dilpomacy, bringing the Arverni to his side.  Ariovistus was less successful, being unable to bring the Santones to his banner.

In late summer, Caesar felt strong enough militarily to resume his stalled offensive, ordering a major tribal force stiffened with XIV Legion to conquer the Leuci and rid the area of the Germans - this was successful, with the Leuci being destroyed in small actions and the Germans retreating across the Rhine.  Ariovistus countered this by persuading the Aedui to join his side.  Then turning his attention to Southwest Gaul, away from the Rhine frontier, Caesar led a big expedition of the X and XI Legions, supported by the Arverni, to crush the Cardurci, which they duly did.  Ariovistus retaliated by persuading the Aedui to attack the weakened Mandubi tribe, which they successfully did, taking Alesia.

So the year ended with Caesar having made some small gains in the Northeast and and Southwest, but Ariovistus continually able to undermine these gains by persuading Gaulish tribes to defect.

At the end of the year, urgent political and family matters forced Caesar to return to Rome.  He would have to direct his campaign by letter and messenger for the next 12 months. 

55 BCE:

The year began with Ariovistus persuading the newly-subdued Sequani to immediately revolt and rejoin him.  Caesar in turn got the Bellovaci to join with him.  Ariovistus continued his diplomacy, but the Menapi were unmoved by this.  

Caesar was pleased to be able to send his armies some much needed logistical support from Rome, to ease their supply difficulties somewhat.  However, Ariovistus had the bit between his teeth: he persuaded the Sequani to subdue the Leuci, which they did easily.  He himself led a combined attack on the Treveri, forcing a battle which resulted in their army's defeat and their surviving warrior retreated to the succor of their fellow Roman allies, the Menapi.

Caesar tried to stabilize the situation in the North by persuading the Bellovaci to attack the Atrobates, and thus indirectly support the Menapi and Treveri.  However, the Bellovaci were defeated by inferior numbers of Atrobates in a series of skirmishes, upon which their host disintegrated!  Ariovistus quickly exploited the situation by throwing a much superior force against the Menapi and the rump of the Treveri, eliminating both as effective resistance and consolidating his control over the Gallic bank of the Rhine up to the Channel.  Realizing that his 'Allies-First' strategy had unraveled, Caesar ordered his legions to move into Gaul, Legions XI, XII, XIII, XIV going into Allobroges territory;
Legions VII, VIII, IX and the Roman cavalry going into Boii territory.  Ariovistus suddenly switched to diplomacy however, persuading the Helvetii to revolt again!

Furious with the disastrous results of this campaign season, Caesar ordered some all-out attacks: Legions XIII and XIV and the Allobroges attacked and vanquished the Sequani (again).  Meanwhile, Legions XI and XII attacked the Aedui; in the resultant battle, the Romans slaughtered the Aedui.

Despite this, the situation was greatly improved for Ariovistus by the end of 55BC, and a good deal worse for Caesar on his return from the Saturnalia festivities in Rome.

Wednesday 13 January 2021

6mm WW2 Polish Infantry & Vehicles: Overview

I was vaguely thinking of getting a small force of WW2 Poles in 6mm for a few scenarios I want to try.  A scoot round the internet found the following suppliers in the UK:


Infantry: 11p/fig

Cavalry: 22p/fig (I think)

TK3 Tankette: 44p/model

7TP Light Tank: 88p/model

Early war lorry: 88p/model

(French) 75mm gun and crew: 88p/model & crew

A fairly limited range, lacking mortars and so on, but enough there for a basic force.

2.    HEROICS & ROS:

No infantry

Tanks (7TP, Vickers E): 65p/model

TKS/TK3 Tankettes: 50p/model

Armoured Cars & Half Tracks: 65p/model

Armoured Train (Engine + 5 Cars): £12.00.

AA Guns, Artillery & Tractors: 65p/model

Trucks & Cars: 65p/model

Aircraft: £1.25-£1.50/model

Very good range of vehicles and kit, but no infantry.  You could always use French at a push.

3.    GHQ (through Magister Militum, or for some items Wargames Emporium): ;

Cavalry: 40p/fig.

Infantry: 20p/fig.

Vehicles: £2.40/model (in packs of 5)

Artillery & AT Guns: £2.00/model (in packs of 2 guns (towed), 2 guns (deployed) and 2 tractors)

Comprehensive, lovely-looking and premium (luxury?!?) price, as is typical of GHQ!


Infantry 6p/model.

Cavalry 15p/model.

Vehicles: 65p/model.

Not a bad selection of vehicles, very lacking in artillery and anti-tank guns.  Not sure what you could use instead…maybe a mix of French and Japanese stuff?


SKYTREX did a range I think, but not sure if you can still get these. Ditto C&C miniatures.

Sunday 10 January 2021

Gallic War Campaign Battle 8: Battle of the Arar

 Gallic War Campaign Battle 8: The Battle of the Arar

Situation: Caesar had become increasingly alarmed by the course of events in 55BC, although being absent in Rome, there was a long time delay between an event and his knowledge of it.  After a string of military and diplomatic reverses to his Gallic allies at the hands of Ariovistus, he ordered a two-pronged attack up the Rhone valley.  The left-hand column, consisting of the XI and XII Legions, was ordered into the area of the Aedui, in order to subdue the rebellious tribe which had left its previous alliance and joined the Germans.

The Forces:

The Romans:

Commander: Falco (Inspiring, Steady)
Sextus (Average, Steady), 2 bases of Trained Cavalry, 2 bases of Veteran Legionaries, 10 bases of Trained Legionaries, 2 bases of Trained Skirmishers, 2 bases of Artillery
The Gauls:
Commander: Cannatus (Average, Rash)
Tascos (Average, Cautious), 1 base of Veteran/Elite Cavalry, 1 base of Trained/Elite Cavalry, 1 base of Trained Tribal Foot, 7 bases of Raw Tribal Foot, 2 bases of Raw Skirmishers 

The Set-Up:

The initial set-up: the Romans are approaching from the South, with their two legions in the centre and their auxiliary light infantry and cavalry on each flank; the Gauls have divided their forces into three, a horde of tribal warriors on one hill (left), their noble cavalry on the other hill (right) and their youths in the centre to harass the legionaries.

The Gallic foot warriors atop one of the hills, led by Tascos.

The youths of the Aedui tribe, ready to delay the Romans in the centre.

The Gallic Cavalry, led by Cannatus in person.

Another view of the whole battlefield.

The Roman legions: XI Legion is on the right (i.e. left in the photo), XII Legion is on the left.

The Battle:
The battle begins with the Roman legions wheeling to face the direction of the threat on each hill; feeling that they must attack or be slowly overwhelmed, Tascos leads his warriors towards the Romans (top)

A wider view: the Gauls are rapidly approaching the Roman legionaries (centre) but the Roman cavalry detachment is preparing to charge in support of their foot brethren (bottom)

On the other flank, Cannatus rides at the head of his horsemen towards the Romans

However, seizing the initiative quite brilliantly, the Roman cavalry (just out of shot to the bottom right) begins to charge and some of the Gallic cavalry flinches! (centre)

The Roman cavalry do not hesitate and drive back their foes!

The Roman cavalry supporting XII Legion also charge home, although the Aedui foot warriors are slightly less intimidated.  The Roman charge does halt the Gallic advance here, however.

On the other flank, half of the Gallic cavalry is in rout up the hill; Cannatus, with frankly little other option, decides to press on.

The Gallic foot cannot charge whilst they are in contact with the Roman cavalry.

Cannatus leads his cavalry into the mass of the XI Legion: the leading cohort is driven back in disorder, but it takes its place behind its supports whilst it attempts to rally (centre-bottom)

The reserve cohort vigorously pushes back and the Gallic horsemen are forced to give ground (centre); Cannatus becomes a casualty in the melee.

The XII Legion makes contact with the Gallic foot warriors; meanwhile, the warriors on the Gallic right (left) are pushed back by the Roman horsemen.

The leading foot warriors fall, are put to the sword, or flee, Tascos amongst them; the Roman cavalry and legionaries push on remorselessly.

The Aedui are losing heart quickly, shaken by the efficiency and violence of the Roman attack

The collapse begins

Meanwhile, the Gallic cavalry is in full flight on the other flank (top-right)

 Game Result: A fairly convincing victory for the Romans: being more skilled, better equipped and more numerous, this was perhaps not surprising.  The Aedui lost around 2000 killed and wounded, with the same again captured, deserted or dispersed: Roman losses were quite trivial, with their cavalry losing around a hundred, the legionaries even less.

Game Notes: A fairly straightforward game, which turned on a couple of key moments.  The Roman deployment allowed their cavalry to intervene effectively, as long as they could seize the initiative at the right moment - which they did.  This blunted both Gallic attacks, robbing them of speed and impetus.  This meant that the shock of impact did not do enough damage to the legionaries to cause anything but the mildest problems.  The loss of the Aedui's leaders quite early didn't help either, and afterwards the tribal warriors were ground down.  The Gallic skirmishers were too weak to intervene effectively, which is typical of light infantry in this game - they are really only good for delaying advances and causing otherwise pointless tempo point expenditure.   Conversely, the spoiling attacks of the Roman cavalry were probably the most important bits of the battle.  Why was this so?

It is an emergent property of the 'groups' used by Polemos: SPQR.  It isn't really explained as such, but these are the key elements of the game, both for good and bad.  Unlike in DBx-games, these groups have to be constituted before the game.  Therefore the only way that bases can be voluntarily 'detached' is as single bases: the tempo point cost is prohibitive unless you really need to do this.  However, bases which are shaken also stop being part of the group until they are rallied back to normal.  This causes some interesting effects:

So looking closely at the tribal foot, one of the leading bases is shaken by the Roman cavalry (you can just see the shaken marker between the triangular-'advance' marker and the tribal foot base).  It is therefore 'not' part of the group at this point.

As it was halted, the group no longer has its 'advance' orders and because the base is shaken, the bases behind it cannot interpenetrate and therefore the remaining 7 bases, all of which are still in the group, cannot charge.  The only base that could charge would be the unshaken leading base, if it did so independently.  This would be so unlikely to succeed as to be not worth the bother.  There is also a hidden danger in using 'depth' rather than 'width' to stack combat bonuses in Polemos:SPQR, although tribal foot doesn't really have that much choice: 'shaken' units to the flank can provide support, 'shaken' units to the rear cannot.  Since one of the good mechanics of the game is that shaken units can be relieved by their rear supports, this comes up quite often. Thus, for tribal foot to win, they must successfully charge home - if a fight lasts for more than a couple of rounds, it is much more likely that the Romans will win it.

Everything I have written about groups above is directly taken from the rules.  It is however taken from mentions in many separate places.  This is one of the problems that makes the rules more confusing than they need to be, important concepts are widely separated and not treated holistically in the play examples.  Those examples are generally fine, but they needed to be much more in depth, I think, to truly make Polemos:SPQR a great ruleset.  With the exception of Polemos: Ruse de Guerre, which uses a much simpler system, the concepts of 'groups' and 'forces' were under-explained, and perhaps under-developed, in many of the Polemos sets, considering their importance to play.

On a less theoretical note, I used two 3'x2' gameboards today, rather than my gaming mat.  I decided that there was a bit too much room on the flanks in a couple of my previous games, so I have started using a formula which is number of bases in the largest force x 6cm is the minimum width to be used, up to the next 'foot'.  So the Romans in this game had 16 bases (excluding commanders and artillery), so a minimum of 96cm, therefore a 4' wide board was used.  I was a bit happier with this.

Figures as ever by Baccus 6mm.