Monday, 23 October 2017

Over the Hills (Play-test) - Pajar de Vergara, Talavera

This weekend, Steve M came over to the man-cave to help play-test one of a series of Peninsular War scenarios for the Over the Hills (OTH) rules we are working on.

As you will know if you read the reviews of our testing of OTH, together with the games we have played using them, we really like them, with their strong period feel, the ability to wargame in the 'Grand Manner' or not as your fancy takes you and the use of the concept of Fatigue to model the 'wear and tear' units suffer during a battle that better replicates the reasons why units stop doing what their player commanders want them to do in a more holistic way than just doing a simple casualty count.

The German Division on the approach with Potocki's Ploes moving out to their right flank in open order

Steve's Anglo-Spanish await the coming storm in line with the allied gunners making their final preparations

The Talavera 208 project took a lot of the focus for this year and was great fun to do and still has aspects that remain to be tied up before it is completely concluded; however with the games played and done it has released the time to look at other things, including playing some more OTH to fully appreciate what the rules can do.

General Alexander Campbell's 4th Division in support of the Spanish 3rd Division under General Portago

That looks a pretty solid line, or is it?

As you will know I really enjoy historical scenarios with as much detail relating to the actual battle that can be modelled without impinging on the fun of the game. OTH is a set of rules that seem well suited to that kind of game and so we are playing some old and some new scenarios to put that theory to the test.

The Nassau battalions form the German right flank with Chasse's two battalions of Dutch infantry next in line

As the German voltigeur screen breaks cover Steve moves the Spanish up to support the guns

So with the Talavera table in situ it seemed like a good place to start by running a few Talavera scenarios on the scale terrain and testing some ideas that might produce some fun games using Over the Hills.

The first sighting between the two forces

Baden infantry preceded by their voltigeur screen

So on Saturday, Steve and I got stuck into the attack on the Pajar Vergara Redoubt by Leval's German Division, trying out various strategies and ways to model the terrain and units to capture what that battle within a battle was all about.

Potocki's Poles move through the olive groves in open order to expedite their movement

Colonel Myers 7th Fusiliers and the 53rd Foot preceded by their light bobs move up with the Spanish line

As we played through two games of this scenarios with two very different results, I was taking a few pictures of the action as the three armies (Anglo-Spanish vs French Allies) sparred with each other on this particular flank of the British line.

A precipitous attack by the Baden brigade voltigeurs is flattened by allied canister - won't do that gain, note to self!!

With the guns in formidable form a gap opened in the German line - Where are the Poles when you need them?

One thing to say is that OTH copes very well with big battle scenarios and both Steve and I found ourselves getting through the phases of play quite easily with only pauses to check the occasional rule concept and to make scenario notes as we played. The fact that we played two versions of this battle speaks highly of the system.

Battle well and truly joined as the two lines screens engage each other

Myers light battalion with a company of rifles get stuck into Chasse's Dutch voltigeurs

The rules make lots of allowance for how you might have your figures based and arranged and I made no changes to my collection other than working out what my units were representing in terms of battalion and regiment strengths. You might also notice that my French commanders have little numbers on steel paper attached under the base as a simple quick method of rapidly identifying a particular commander and his associated troops so I could keep an eye on command ranges.

The British and Spanish general officers were much more obvious and needed no such addition. Like wise I continued with my practice of grouping my light companies and voltigeurs into detached battalions and these are easily accommodated under OTH.

Meanwhile on the other flank the Hesse voltiguers engage the Antequeran light infantry with the El Rey cavalry in close support

The allied guns pivot to pour on the hurt and that was about it for Leval's first attack - fairly historical in fact.

The other consideration for my collection is that we play big battles in 15/18mm and not in that other scale and so we were using our own version of the QRS or QRF with suitably changed movement rates and ranges to half those in the rule book to save our overworked, overheated and some might say feeble brains from having to convert each time.

We really like to include all the chrome and detail that Adrian and Quinton have built into OTH as optional for nerds like us who are happy to roll the extra dice to test for ragged volley fire in response to a charge and other great ideas like that.

Another game a few tweaks and those allied guns just cant resist having a blat yet again
This time General Leval plays a more cautious and considered approach, note those German guns unlimbering to left of picture and oh dear, that red marker seems to indicate the British guns are out of ammunition for a turn.

So play testing scenarios is something Steve and I have had a bit of practice at over the last five years playing with this collection of figures and after a while it becomes a bit of process where we play a set of ideas and then say, yes but what if we try this or that, always keeping the actual aims of the historical commanders and the issues they encountered front and centre of the design.

As the British cannon fall silent, the Anglo Spanish infantry are forced to take a hand, but those German guns might pose a problem

What did I say about those German guns and problems?

The battle over the Pajar redoubt is a good example where a demonstration-pinning attack through various mishaps ended up happening ahead of time in a way that it was never intended - 'C'est la guerre'.

So given a similar set of circumstances and the same troops under your command could you do any better that Messrs Leval, Portago and Campbell, and does this scenario model, present those issues and command choices in a fun and interesting way for both commands that allow you to test yourself against their bench mark?

And that in a nutshell is why we like to test, and note not one mention of the dread word 'balance' because we all know that no general went into a battle looking for balance, quite the opposite. The scenario player has long ditched the idea of points and balance in favour of fun and challenge, and who knows perhaps gaining an increased respect for the generals who had to do it for real.

Time to take full advantage of allied problems - in go the Dutch, en avant, Vive L'Empereur!!

Now what goes around, comes around. That green marker in front of the Polish infantry (extreme lower right of picture) indicates the Dutch horse guns have just run out of ammunition for a turn, Oh dear, how sad, never mind!!

As you can see from the pictures a right royal battle was had with honours even for both sides, gaining a win each but with a few tweaks and re-writes garnered from the day's fun. You might also notice the other Talavera forces still on the table adding a bit of the rest of the battle going on behind. These units will be wheeled out over the next few weeks testing other games for OTH before we move on from Talavera.

Still onwards and upwards - the Dutch carry the redoubt, with the Baden brigade hot on their heels to consolidate their hold.
Honours even.

If you are looking at getting into a set of Napoleonic rules then OTH is definitely a set to look at and both Steve and I had a lot of fun rolling those bones.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Roman Imperial Legionary Cohort

I now consider the Roman collection well and truly under way with the completion of the Victrix Roman Early Imperial Legionaries that I was putting together in the summer during our break in Holland.

Victrix Early Imperial Roman Legionaries Advancing

I have been so looking forward to doing these ever since Victrix announced the launch with their CAD images of the new figures and they have been such fun to put together and learn my way around with a brush, which is the normal routine when getting familiar with painting a new set of figures.

As explained in my previous post looking at the Dacian Cap Wearer warband I have put together my own basing plan based on Augustus to Aurelian with the idea of reducing the number of bases players have to push around the table whilst still being able to indicate any given formation.

So here is my Quingenary Cohort made flesh or in this case plastic, and what a fine bunch of men they look, ready to create a bit of Pax Romana if the situation demands.

The look of my cohort has a certain symmetry in that I have settled on this three base set up which conveniently mirrors the three maniples of two centuries each numbering around 80 men thus a cohort of 480 men; I have assumed a figure to man ratio of about 1:25 with each of my three bases coming in slightly below paper strength at 150 men, thus a campaigning cohort of about 450 men.

I chose for my first cohort the black shields in honour of the first book that got me interested in this period at the tender age of nineteen, namely John Warry's "Warfare in the Classical World" published by Salamander Books back in 1980 with some fantastic colour illustrations including the one below and the inspiration for my unit, this black shielded or scutum legionary from the 1st century AD.

The figures went together very easily and, as I suggest in my little video clip attached below, they provide lots of scope for the scratch builders among us who love messing about to come up with those unique figures in our collections.

The musicians and various standard bearers come with a variety of big beast animal pelts that really make the command party stand out and the cornu is enhanced by taking a pin vice and drilling out the horn mouth to suggest a noise might be emitted from it.

The legionaries can be modelled with two types of imperial model helmets, one having reinforcing bars across the bowl, pugio and gladius scabbards which again adds to the variation for the eye.

As with the Dacians, these chaps are well defined, with calf muscles that look like they have put in a few Roman miles of marching to get to the battlefield.

The weaponry is solid and those pila heads look like they could cause a lot of damage coupled with a solid ball weight at the base of the pins holding the long tapering shank in place.

Finally we have the Optio modelled here looking along the line and making sure the dressing is correct and every man is in his allotted place.

The figures come with oval shields and helmet crests to allow either legionaries or praetorians to be modelled and LBM supply a varied range of shield decals to suit most requirements.

I should say I had a bit of fun, not for the first time, mastering the decals particularly with the pronounced curve on these models that can make detaching the decal from the backing paper a little trickier than normal, but as you can see they really finish the off the figures.

As with the Napoleonics I have added a video clip to talk about panting these and the Dacians, focussing on my colour options for the flesh work, together with a look at some of the books I have been referring to for inspiration or for painting guides.

These little clips are not intended as tutorials and assume you have an idea of how to paint the figures and are more designed to illustrate specifics in the way I paint that you might like to use along with references I have found most useful.

So if you can imagine nine similar units with a roughly equal number of auxiliaries and a first cohort with five instead of three bases with an eagle to wave around plus a few 'donkey wallopers' on the flanks, you have a legion to ready to take it to the Dacian hordes - what fun.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Empire, The Wolf's Gold - Anthony Riches

This last week I have been getting some final 2017 sunshine and outdoor living in southern Spain which has given me loads of time to start work on some projects that have had to take a back seat whilst others were being concluded.

In addition to spending some time writing I have been reading and getting some research and inspiration for the Romano-Dacian project which has included Anthony Riches novel covering the exploits of Marcus Valerius Aquila otherwise known as Centurion Corvus, and specifically the fifth book in a series of nine so far, "The Wolfs Gold".

I am pretty sure I read the first book in the series "Wounds of Honour" but all I can remember is that I couldn't put it down but can't remember how it turned out other than some brutal battles up on Hadrian's Wall, I think. So I aim to re-read that one and start again when I get home.

So from that last comment you might have guessed I rather enjoyed this read and I found Mr Riches prose most entertaining and thoughtful as I am a bit of an old hand with much of this kind of fiction having worked my way through the likes of Kent and Cornwell. After a while you start to work out where the plot is going and who to keep an eye on and somehow it starts to feel a bit predictable.

I certainly didn't get that with The Wolf's Gold and was mightily entertained with a few twists and turns that I  hadn't anticipated.

Some great battle descriptions of Romans taking on the Sarmatian cavalry in The Wolf's Gold by Anthony Riches
This volume covers the adventures of Marcus and his colleagues in the Tungrian Auxiliary cohort of which he is a centurion having been sent to the Danube frontier to help the local commander with a little problem of Sarmatian raiders threatening to relieve the empire of a stack of Dacian gold from a mine deep within the mountains of Alburnus Major. Whilst there he and his comrades face off not only Sarmatian cavalry but errant auxiliary allies and duplicitous Roman senior officers out to further their careers at anyone's expense, all good stuff.

The plot is well crafted and mixed with well researched historical background to satisfy history nerds like me that want to immerse in the period which in this case is set during the turbulent year of 183 AD during the reign of the power crazed Emperor Commodus.

I chose this particular book because it created its story around the area of the Empire I find myself particularly interested in, all be it from an earlier period under Trajan, namely Dacia, Moesia and the Danubian frontier with descriptions of Sarmatian cataphracts and Thracian archers that had me wishing I was at home in front of the painting desk. That I think was part of the magic for me reading this book in that I found it really stimulating the imagination and creative juices in the way that I hoped it would and would recommend it to any like mind looking for a similar experience.

One thing I am getting my head around as I branch out into the ancient era is that unlike later more contemporary periods such as the 19th and 20th centuries conflicts where there is a lot more factual data to get to grips with and many more first person primary accounts to digest and help inform the wargaming, you just don't get that for Rome and her wars and thus the historical novel has a very important role to play in providing that missing input alongside the worthy historical tomes that underpin the hobby.

So if you are up for a good sandal and spear yarn with plenty of historical reference and some great scenario ideas then I can recommend The Wolf's Gold.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Dacian Cap Wearer Warband

To kick off the new theme here on JJ's I thought I would re-vamp my original idea to incorporate the amazing picture taken of Trajan's column on our trip to Rome for Will's 18th birthday, in 2014, that really fired up the idea to produce this collection; and which would form the backdrop to the figure collection and games generated going forward.

So each header will be colour themed according to whether the subject is Roman, Dacian, Sarmatian or German or if it's a scenario post - all good fun.

The build up to this project has been going on in the background to the Napoleonic Peninsular War project that has taken centre stage on JJ's ever since the blog started back in 2012 and it has seen both Tom and I experimenting with Warlord plastics whilst also working out a set of rules to incorporate into the collection.

During the last four years a small collection of Romans principally from the Warlord range have been constructed and I have learnt a lot about the pallet of colours together with the look of the units I want to build.

I like to draw pictures of how I want things to look so sat down and worked out my A to A unit stats and base sizes

I had started with Hail Caesar (HC) and its 20mm base frontage for individual figures but having decided against using the rules to play the games finally came down to redesigning my bases to follow the same frontage as HC but go for a six figure base with more depth to allow more scope to characterise the look of each one - hence the six base large warband portrayed above.

Part of my A to A unit design guide showing the look and variation of a Roman Legionary cohort

This unit equates to about 1,000 warriors and thus a Roman quingenary cohort of 480 legionaries will be half the unit depth of this warband with three a base frontage, but be based on the same size six figure bases, as outlined in my recent post looking at using my preferred rules 'Augustus to Aurelian' (A to A).

Augustus to Aurelian

The stat cards below indicate the flexibility in fielding my warbands with six options based on size, large to medium, equating to a six or four base unit and a skill level of untried, warrior or hardened warrior, with cap wearer modelled here more likely to be on the upper end of the experience spectrum.

Dacian Warband stat cards - for Cap Wearers and Bastarnae
So to our brave defenders of Dacian liberty or a deceitful bunch of ambushing barbarians depending on your viewpoint.

These are from the Warlord plastics range of figures that come with metal upper torsos and heads to convert their standard plastic Gallic/German barbarian into a more appropriate Dacian appearance together with a pack of Dacian style shields to complete the look.

The well ripped, slightly homo-erotic look of some of the warriors, only needing a rub down with oil as per 'The 300' may not be to everyone's taste but I think they add a bit more of the 'barb' to barbarian and help contrast them even more with my clean shaved regimented legionaries from the new Victrix range of EIR plastics.

Warlord really do seem to have had a problem controlling the consistency of scale with their plastics and their legionaries are now past their sell by date when compared with Victrix which match these Dacians perfectly.

Given that a barbarian army tends to be built around a core of big meaty warbands Warlord plastics still make a compelling reason to use as the basis of any collection mixed with a sprinkling of metals from the likes of Wargames Foundry to add more variety to the overall look.

There is something really liberating to the soul when branching out into a new painting project and researching colours and appearance to attempt to get a look always with the end in mind, namely that a Dacian army at full strength will have thirteen similarly sized units on the table with cap wearers, falx men and Bastarnae warriors providing a mix of appearance to draw the eye, not to mention accompanying cavalry such as Sarmatian cataphracts and horse archers.

These models went together quite easily and the only issue with them would be the need to replace horizontal spears with brass rod to avoid annoying breakages in play.

The shield decals are also supplied with each box of warriors which I wish other plastic manufacturers would do as it makes the whole process of building a large force much more painless when you can buy the set ready to go from the box, also these decals are water-slide rather than the more normal LBM 'stick down and damp the paper from the back' variety and as a plastic modeller of yaw I find the former process much more user friendly.

So the Dacian collection is up and running with the thousand mile journey started with that first step, to be accompanied with a new terrain building project, not to mention the other forces that will be joining my Dacians, so lots of stuff to come.