Sunday, May 29, 2011

Report from Barcelona

Barcelona was named after Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal's dad.  For Hannibal it would have been the last Carthaginian city before entering Gaul on the way to take on the Romans.

Wargaming is pretty popular here.  I found the Alpha-Ares Wargames Club.  They have a big space over two levels with lots of tables permanently set up on both levels.  I think they have a couple of hundred members but I was there on a quiet night - Barca FC was going to win the European Cup later (and consequently there is a great deal of yahooing & hornblowing going on in the street outside as I write this).

English isn't as common here as in France, but I found a couple of guys who could speak a bit of English. 

Big old fashioned board games seem to be the biggest thing here - there were several mega board games set up and in progress (with plastic covers to preserve them between meetings), including WWII, WWI, ACW & Medieval.  FOW is very popular, though I wasn't there on FOW night & didn't see any games in progress.   They also do Napoleonics & ancients miniatures.  There was a big Napoleonic game left set as a diarama on one table.  There is a coven of fantasy players, but it seems much in the minority. 

The local wargames shop reflects what I saw at the club - it has huge range of FOW, some ancient, ECW & Napoleonic miniatures, lots of boardgames, a little fantasy, lots of books.  Not a bad shop, but unfortunately they had nothing I needed to buy.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gaming Garage

two battles, with some spectators.

Flames of War -- Byron vs John, 1750 points, Late war, Cauldron Mission.

Byron was defending a Russian village with a Sperrverband from a Russian force of heavy tanks, stuart light tanks, and infantry.  The German anti tank guns failed to inflict any casualties, taking out one Stuart before they were overrun.  The Russian infantry went into the village in an assault, taking out the defenders.  Meanwhile, the Russian heavy assault guns took the other objective, brushing aside the veteran Hetzers.  Byron had terrible luck, getting no reinforcements during the whole game.

Flames of War Vietnam -- Steve (US) vs Cameron (Vietnamese).  Leigh took over when Cameron had to leave.  leigh and Nick umpired.

The battle started with a horde of Vietnamese ambushing a US armoured column.  Unfortunatly, they only took out one vehicle, bailing a lot more.  But the US remounted their vehicles, and let off an impressive array of fireworks -- including a two 'zippo' flamethrower tanks burning all in sight.  The Vietnamese were pinned down, and refused to unpin.  Their RPG's didnt do much damage, and the next turn the remaining Vietnamese were gunned down.  At this point the Vietnamese had lost one platoon, and had no reinforcements, so they had to roll morale to continue the battle.  They were successful, and more infantry with RPG's arrived.  A protatracted firefight saw the Zippos destroyed, and the US Armoured Cav platoon slowly whittled down to nothing, while the Vietnamese took horrendous casualties.  But then a second US armoured cav platoon arrived as reinforcements, and the firefight kicked back into top gear.  Eventually Cameron had to go, and Leigh took over.  But then Steve had to leave for work, and the battle was called a draw.

The big take out was that Vietnam battles take a lot longer than WWII.  The high amount of terrain makes infantry hard to kill.  And when killed, each side has their own special rules that keep units around.  Vietnamese troops keep coming back using the Born in the North to Die in the South rule.  And US Troops refuse to break using the 'No Where to Run' rule. Maybe 1000 points is a better points amount to play with.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Club Challenge Trophy Presented

The Kingston Kup FOW Club Challenge Trophy contested last weekend was today formally presented to Camp Cromwell after its trip to the engravers to have our name inscribed.  It is indeed a fine trophy & has pride of place on our trophy shelf.  We're sure we will have a tough fight on our hands to hold off the envious hordes next year.

FOW Doubles Test

Jim's Grenadiers + Steve's 21st Panzer
John's 2 x Russian Coys

All coys averaging 1250 pts.
Breakthrough Mission on 8x6 table.

Camp Cromwell are thinking of running Operation Cromwell 11 later in the year as a doubles comp (possibly the 1st weekend in November - which is a LWE for Launcestonians).  Pairs of players to have a company each fighting on 8x6 tables.   There is a set of rules for such a comp at  which we could use, or maybe modify a bit.  We did a test run this afternoon.  We only had 3 players, but we made John an honary Tasmanian so he could run both Russian platoons.

The Germans put all of Jim's Grenadiers (a mix of infantry, anti-tank & artillery) on the table in blocking positions.    Steve had 1 armoured PG plus a few KTs, & deployed the half tracks in position to rush the corner objective.

The Russians had one platoon with Gods & lots of ISUs on the table and the other one with IS2s & 2 x Strelk in reserve.  The pics are taken with the Russian objectives in the far right corner.  The German 88's evaporated on turn 1, the 1st Grenadiers & Paks were soon over-run as the big tanks pushed down the right flank.

The Germans moved to cover the objectives but didn't get dug in before being swamped by the IS2s supported by a swarm of strelk & they lost the corner objective.  The KTs were too slow & too far away to get over to take it back & the Russians won when turn 6 arrived.

The two platoon format seeemd to work fine.  The big table makes it a much different game - with transport & artillery ranges coming into play to a much greater degree.  At Camp Cromwell we have been using 2000pts on 8x6 table for our club comp and have a few house rules about deployment areas to maintain the balance between attacker & defender.  There was some discussion about whether it should be 2x1,250 or 2x1,500, which period, etc, but we have a good lead time to canvas opinion before making any decisions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hail Caesar !

Jim's Britons v. Steve's Romans

Both sides deployed their mobile troops - cavalry, chariots & auxilia - on the British right with two long infantry lines covering the rest of the front.

The Brits advanced their infantry through the wood right of centre, held back their left and advanced their light cavalry on the right.  The Romans held back their right but advanced on their left to meet the British left.  This lead to a quick and wild melee on that flank.  The British had the better of it destroying all the Roman horse & an auxila at the cost of 1 chariot unit.

The Brits in the wood got lost for a while but eventually blundered through & deployed in front of it only to be threatened in flank by the auxilia that by-passed the flank melee.  But with some light cavalry support it saw off the auxila leaving the Brits in control on that flank.

Meanwhile on the other flank, the Romans realised they had to get moving before they were outflanked from the left.  The British advanced to meet them.  On the Roman right, that division had success pushing back and then routing the British left.  But in the centre their formation was disrupted by the the need to face a flank threat and things started going badly.  It soon got even worse when the chariots and light cavalry arrived in their rear. 

Soon the Romans were reduced to just the 3 units of their right flank division (the Roman army morale was not affected by the loss of the auxilary troops - only legionaries count).  The British calmly reorganised while sending their light troops to soften up the remaining Romans.  

In the 3rd pic the last 3 Roman units are the 2 in the far left with slingers in front & one surrounded on the far right.  The surrounded one routed next turn & the other were reduced to shaken status by the slingers causing the division & the army to break before the rest of Brits got reorganised.

We have fought 3 Roman v. Britain battles.  They have all been decisive, but the winner has alternated - Brit, Romans, then Brits again.  The Brit's plan was to first outflank the Roman right then attack their front.  When the Brit advance on their right succeded, the Romans were in big trouble.  On their far right where their line was intact they repeated last week's steamroller, but where the Brits were able to disrupt their formation it was  different story.  Familiarity with Hail Caesar does open up tactical opportunities - it isn't all luck (at least it isn't if you win).  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kingston KUP FOW Tournament 14-15 May 2011

The Kingston Bunker Rats ran a great FOW comp this weekend (14-15 May).  The venue, the Blackmans Bay Hall, was excellent - a nice size, lots of daylight & good facilities.  Tristan Goodwin put on excellent lunches both days, plus we had a great dinner at the restaurant along the road on Saturday night.  There was a good turn out of 14 while John Mumford didn't play to concentate on running the show & to avoid byes.  The tables all had well planned & good looking terrain with plenty of variety. 

There was keen competiton for a nice range of trophies & prizes, but all fought in good spirit.  The Inaugural Tasmanian FOW Club Championship was decided on the aggregate scores of the 4 entrants from each of the clubs, Kingston Bunker Rats, Camp Cromwell & Launceston Gaming Club.

The comp was 4 rounds, 2 a day on the usual Swiss system.  The Missions were R1: Breakthrough,  R2: Hasty Attack,  R3: Cauldron, R4: Free for All.  With one game morning and afternoon each day 3+ hours were available for each round. 

A wide range of armies was represented, 5 German, 4 US, 2 Russian, 1 Hungarian, 1 Finn & 1 British, comprising 6 armoured, 3 mechanised & 5 infantry. All Late War, 1750 points.

Individual results:
1st:    Andrew Smith (Kingston) - 4 wins with Russian Heavy Assault Guns.
2nd:   Steve Jendrich (Camp Cromwell) - 3 wins with Panzerlehr Pzgr (lost to NickR).
3rd:   Jim Gandy (Camp Cromwell) - 3 wins with Hungarian Infantry  (lost to Smithy).
4th:    Nick Ridge (Launceston) - 3 wins with British Rifles (lost to Smithy). 

The Camp Cromwell team: Steve (3 wins), Jim (3 wins), Leigh (2 wins) & Byron (2 wins) won the club challenge trophy.

Steve also won the Monty Award for least casualties lost, Richard Taylor (Finnish armour) won the Patton Award for most casualties inflicted, Rob Holloway won the Zurkov award for most casualties lost, Carl Pearcy won the best presented army award & Tristan Goodwin won the nicest opponent award. 

Congratulations to the Bunker Rats & John Mumford in particular for a most enjoyable & well run tournament.   

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hail Caesar !

SteveJ's Romans
SteveP & Barrie's Britons

We didn't have enough 28's available tonight, so we stuck with 15's on a 8x5 table.

The Britons tried to advance on the whole line, but the dice gods turned this into an advance in echelon leading from the right.

Both sides put all their horse (& chariots) on the near flank (Roman right).  The Britons got first blood with some hot shooting from their light horse, but the cavalry fight was all downhill from there & the Briton cavalry division was quickly routed.

On the other flank, the Britons failed to quite make their charges go home on the very Roman straight line formation.  The Romans countercharged chucking pila & better dice all along the line.  After failing to break any Romans on the first charge, the Britons ran out of steam and their divisions were pushed back & crumbled one by one.   The Romans lost only 1 unit in a  crushing victory.

In the second pic the Romans have won on the far flank.  In the centre the Britons are pushed back & about to break.  Near the wood there is another warband surrounded & doomed.

Last week the Britons got on a roll & the Romans looked hopeless, this week the sandal was very much on the other foot & the Romans seemed invincible.  I have commented before that Hail Caesar seems to suffer from wild swings of fortune, but it may be that is a function of the type of armies we are using.  Both Romans & Warbands have high impact factors, so the first round can easily be decisive -   Warbands either win first up or they lose - which is logical.  Match-ups of armies with steadier troops like hoplites or phalangites with lower impact factors & better saves should make combats more of a grind & less prone to wild swings of fortune.

Despite the limited experience with the rules the players collectively have, the battle went very smoothly and rattled right along.    Everyone enjoyed the experience & is keen to do more next week.  We are hoping to round up enough 28's for next time.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Weekend FOW

Jim's Hungarians v. Byron's US SSF

Cauldron Mission, Hungarians defending on a crowded table.

The battle turned around the objective in the wood on the lhs of the table centre.  The US infantry attacked through the wood supported by lots of artillery.  Shermans and another infantry platoon went around the Hungarian right flank, Honeys put pressure on the left.

The flank attack was beaten off by a counterattack by Hetzers & Zrinys, but Hungarians in the wood were eventually destroyed.    The Hetzers disputed the objective while the 2nd infantry platoon came up.  US artillery destroyed the Hetzers, but they lasted long enough for the grunts to arrive. 

By the battle was now on a knife edge with both sides on the verge of army morale tests.  The 2nd Hungarian infantry passed morale, then the Zrinys rampaged through the mortars in the US rear to force an army morale test on the US which gave the Hungarians victory.

Hail Caesar - a review

If you are familiar with Black Powder you will find Hail Caesar very easy to pick up, and if you like Black Powder, you will undoubtedly like Hail Caesar. Rick Priestly wrote both. Hail Caesar runs on the same principles as Black Powder, but has been tweaked in significant ways to provide a good ancient feel.

The book is a joy, written in a clear & amusing style and superbly illustrated with modelling porn. The rules are laid out in a logical sequence and although there is no index, a good contents page makes things easy to find - plus stuff is generally where you expect to find it. There is also a concise summary and easy to read quick reference sheets in appendices.

The rules are very tolerant of basing systems and figure scales. They are unit based, so all that matters is that both sides have units of similar width. The book is illustrated with grand battles with large units of 28mm figures on huge tables, but the rules facilitate the use of smaller units if necessary. We have been using 15mm figs on an 8x5 table and it works just fine. You could even scale the unit widths, moves & ranges down and use a 6x4 table if you had you.

Different troops types are provided for with a range of generic types plus special rules for special cases. Units sizes are restricted to standard (160-200mm frontage), small (half) & large (double). Units are grouped in "divisions" of 2-6 units for command purposes. I can understand that some will find this lacking in subtlety, but out on the table in the midst of a big action, the simplicity pays off.

The command system Hail Caesar shares with Black Powder is a particularly distinctive feature. It adds a level of uncertainty and excitement that for me is much of the appeal of Hail Caesar. The procedure is that before moving a unit, or group of units in the same division, the player must announce what he intends, then throw a sum-of-two-dice command test. The unit may then be allowed to move 1, 2 or even 3 moves within the limits described, or not move at all. You have to be very careful how you word your order, or units can get into trouble real quick. Movement isn't entirely dependent on the command test: Units close to the enemy can act on initiative and some units, like those given the "drilled" rule, can move 1 move even if they fail the test. Movement rates are less than Black Powder which helps maintain cohesion in the ancient armies.

The combat system is a little more complex than Black Powder, as it should be, as hand to hand combat is what ancient warfare was all about. But it's still simple enough. Units have a "clash" & a "sustained" combat value, the first used in the first round of close combat and the second subsequently. This is the base number of dice to hit. Extra dice may be allowed due to support. The to hit score is 4+ with some tactical +/-'s. The target gets a save for each hits. The save depends on armour, morale & some tactical factors. The side with the most unsaved hits loses and takes a sum-of-2-dice morale test that could cause disorder, retreat or rout. The system isn't original, but so what - it's as easy and quick to resolve as any. We have found the results to be a bit capricious sometimes, but we are also not entirely across the tactical options yet, and what rules can save you from a cluster of 1's ? At least with this system you don't get a headache as well.

Missile fire hits are adjudicated in a similar way to close combat with units given so many dice to hit depending on size, skill and weapons & the target having a save depending on armour, morale & cover. Too many hits will cause a morale test that could cause disorder, retreat, or with enough casualties, rout.

Casualties are recorded with chits, a small dice, or wounded figures. When hits reach the unit's stamina value, usually 6, the unit is "shaken" & becomes more vulnerable to morale tests. At the end of each turn excess casualties are removed - the effect of further casualties is in causing more morale tests - the piles of chits don't get out of hand, being replaced by a shaken counter. The stamina values are higher than in Black Powder thus causing combats to last longer, as they should for ancients.

The default army morale test is that an army is defeated when more than half its divisions are broken. (Divisions are broken if more than half are routed, or all are shaken). Specific scenarios can have different conditions.

The game mechanisms are simple and easy to follow. You can fight big battles with these rules and complete them before your brain fades or the sparrow farts. Most of the concepts are well explained & easy to grasp, but there are a few loose ends that might take a bit of thought. There is a list of optional rules for players to pick & choose from to suit their prejudices. Hail Caesar is not intended for serious tournament play, the intention is for a good game between like minded mates. The author encourages players to experiment & go the way they want - the rules are not meant to be taken as writ in stone, nor proof against rules lawyers. I can see that different groups would evolve different ways of doing some things - when playing away one will need to accept the home group's way of doing things, but once familiar with the system, that won't be difficult.

The book provides seven ready made scenarios with terrain, army lists and a description of the game as played. They are spread over the time from Biblical times to the Middle ages. The scenarios are an interesting mix, with encounter battles & holding actions as well the usual line-them-up-and-charge. All the scenarios could be re-jigged to different periods to suit the armies available to provide even more variety. Players are encouraged to evolve their own scenarios, preferably with a capricious umpire to make things interesting with secret rules.

There isn't a comprehensive points system provided. The emphasis is on the players devising scenarios, preferably multi-player with an umpire, rather than picking armies from a Chinese menu for a competitive one on one game. There are just two army lists with points provided - for Romans & Celts. Other example armies are provided in the scenarios. More lists are already available on the web (Warlords or Yahoo Group forums) and there are plans for future books going into specific periods in more detail and including lists, so list addicts will be catered for.

The differences with Field of Glory are stark - they are chalk and cheese. I personally found FOG to be overcomplicated and dull, but I'm sure there are people who will not like Hail Caesar's free and easy approach. I think the two sets of rules will appeal to different sets of wargamers & few will like both.

We have been playing Hail Caesar with my grotty old 15mm figures, but it would be nice to see the spectacle of mass 28's like in the book. I know several people have a few units of 28mm, but only Carl has enough for a full army. Hail Caesar would be perfect for a multi-player game with 2 or 3 players a side, each with a division or two of their own troops.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Hail Caesar 2

Steve's Britons v. Byron's Romans
We did the Border Raid AD52 Scenario from the book.  The Romans come on at one end of the table (RHS in pic 1) in 4 divisions, 1 per turn.  The Britons start scattered about the far end of the table in 3 divisions.  In pic 1 the Roman cavalry of their advance guard is facing Bagotrix's cavalry & chariots. On the right Marcus Spandex's division is facing the fanatical Druids.  Cenicus Dodius' divison is in support. The division of Dipso Maniacus Vino is lagging behind.  Bagotrix's allies are still in the far woods, except for their chariots which have rushed ahead with the Druids.  The Roman cavalry started well pushing their opponents back, but the Britons rallied and the leading Roman cavalry unit suddenly routed.  This prompted morale tests on their supports which also routed.   This left Spandex with  hanging flank and a horde of fanatical Druids in front.

Dodius tried to save the day by counterattacking Bagotrix's infantry on the left, but it was too little too late.  Spandex was swamped with Druids in front & cavalry & chariots on both flanks.  Dodius did break some of the British infantry but the cost was too high, all his units became shaken so his division also broke.   Vino's division hadn't got near the action, but with 3 out of 4 divisions broken, the Romans failed army morale. 

The battle went pretty smoothly.  Having played Black Powder certainly helps, but they are easy to learn, and the rule book is pretty good when it comes to finding stuff.  There are few grey areas that require a bit of interpretation & I can see that different groups could end up with different ways of playing some items.  (Something the authors have no problems with - they encourage the players to play around with the rules - there is whole section on optional rules to pick & choose from).

The game does seem to be prone to a bit of bad luck causing total disaster.   In tonight's case, Byron's lead cavalry had the advantage of following up an intial win, but threw bad dice & lost anyway.  Bad morale dice then caused them to rout.  Then their supports had to test - another bad roll & they went too.  Suddenly there was a hole in the Roman line & Spandex was hit in flank while he already had his hands full fighting the Druids.   So one bad morale test escalated into total defeat.  Maybe Byron could have deployed better, maybe when we become more familiar with the rules, the luck/skill balance will improve.  I can see that some of the optional rules & some different interpretations could help improve this too.

Maybe it's the authors' national bias, but the Celts seem far too good relative to the Romans.  But there's nothing to stop one from manipulating the factors to suit one's prejudices when designing scenarios.

The players & the umpire enjoyed the game.  Hail Caesar isn't perfect, but for me it's way better than FOG.  The command system where you never quite know how far anyone is going to move really spices things up.  The combat system is a bit flukey, but no more so than FOG, and so much easier to do. 

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hail Caesar !

Jim's Spartans v. Steve's Athenians
Mark's Athenians v. Steve's Spartans

We did the smallest, simplest scenario in the book to familarise ourselves with the rules.  Both armies had only 2 divisions, all 2 or 3 Hoplite units plus 1 or small light units.  As a small battle it was done quickly enough to do it again.

The rules work happily with any figure scale as it is unit based, thus all you have to do is have as many of your stands as match the standard widths.  In our case 15mm figs 4 x 40mm wide stands = 160mm, the bottom end of the recommended range of 16-200mm.

The system is very much like Black Powder, but tweaked to make it work for ancients.  Shorter move distances help maintain cohesion, there is more subtlety in the combat system as close combat is what ancients is all about.  As with BP, there are generic troop types, with special rules that can be added togive any particular troop type the right flavour.

Overall, I think they are a set of rules well worth getting.  The rule book itself is a rattling good read, well set out and full of modeller porn.  They can be easily learned and played without undue mental gymnastics.  The 7 scenarios in the book are varied and interesting - not just line 'em up and charge.  While each scenario is set in a specific era - from Biblical to Middle Ages - each one could be tweaked into any other era to provide variety.  There are some army lists in the book, some on their Yahoo Group & more on the way (maybe even a book of them).

My main critism of HC, is as it is of BP - that so much depends on good dice in the command & morale tests that luck can too easily overcome cunning plans.  We found that luck played a major part in deciding the outcomes of these battles, but as they were very small battles, this effect was exagerated - it will be better in larger battles where there is more scope for the luck to even out.  You wouldn't want to playing for high stakes with these rules, but they are fun to play & never boring.