Saturday, 10 April 2021

One Hour Cannae

 Inspired by Marks 'Clash of Spears' and Simons 'Hydaspes' games, I thought I'd take another look at the One Hour Ancients rules and backport some of the elements from my well tested WW2 variant onto them. I was also keen to persevere with the use of grids, as my favourite Ancients rules (Lost Battles and CnC Ancients) both use a grid to good effect and restrict some of the very silly wargamerish moves people like to pull with Ancient armies as if they were tank formations all under gps controlled command.

The easiest thing was retrofitting the 1/2/3 dice and six hit combat system as it maps onto the standard D6 plus or minus two system precisely. The harder bit was geometry as I didn't want a 9x9 or, heaven forfend, a 12x12 playing area. 6x6 requires some careful handling to replicate some of the subtlety of the ruler based rules in terms of the relative mobility of the various unit types. I got something workabe in the end, mainly by borrowing very heavily from the troop types and move restrictions. Good luck trying to get your heavy infantry to turn on a sixpence now! 

I wanted an asymmetrical playtest scenario, and funnily the next one of my list of CnC Ancients games was Cannae, as asymmetrical as you can get with a nice range of troop types but nothing silly like elephants or flaming pigs. It wasn't too hard to convert the Lost Battles OB and deployment into something vaguely approaching a OHW scenario, and I borrowed the CnC Ancients 'victory banner' concept to avoid it being just a boring battle of annihilation.

After a couple of run throughs with both sides achieving victory (as Hannibal was heavily outnumbered Cannae was always a slightly dicey proposition for him), it was time to try it out on the long suffering members of Sheffield Wargames Society!


The battlefield. The River Aufidius in the foreground and the mountains in the background. I used the terrain layout from the Lost Battles scenario. The rocks, trees etc make the grid a bit more obvious.


This was a rare outing for my 20mm goats (Irregular Miniatures). They joined the rocks and trees in marking out the corners of squares.




The mighty Romans. Tim, Pete and John were the Romans and their eight(!) Legions. Tim and Pete were Varrus and Pallaus respectively, while John had the cavalry and Velites. These are all my quad size 20mm DBA armies, mounted on my big 5"x3" movement trays. Mostly HaT plastics.

The eight Legions were represented by four units of Legionaries, each of twenty figures (eight Hastati, eight Princeps and four Triarii each). The Velites were as many Velite figures as I could cram on each base (eight in each case), and half a dozen Roman cavalry completed the mounted contingent. Each unit represented approx 12,000 infantry or 6,000 cavalry (fewer for better quality units, more for worse quality ones).



The Romans from an angle. Varrus and Pallaus are leading Legions on foot. They look rather Featherstone-esque I think. The Romans didn't have much option but to adopt their historical formation, a big block of Legions in the middle, Velites out front and the cavalry on the flank. That was how the Republican Army was trained to fight, line up and chop forwards. A big mass of Legions together is a very scary prospect, lots of combat dice and armoured as well. Imagine an entire division of Tiger tanks...


Simon, Mark, Jerry and Tim C were the polyglot Carthaginians. Simon was Hannibal with the Balearic Slingers, Tim got the Gauls, Mark the Carthaginian Heavies, while Jerry was Hasdrubal and got all the veteran cavalry.

The Carthaginian Army was a bit harder to model, as I was keen to allow them to adopt their historical deployment so I was very generous with the veteran Libyan infantry and gave them two units of heavies (only representing a few thousand troops each). I just put four bases of Libyan infantry (16 figures) on each. The light infantry were easy, I just gave them a unit of Balearic Slingers.

The Gallic Allies were the hardest. Lost Battles just has them as average heavy infantry, CnC as a mixture of Warband and Auxilia. In the end I plumped for two units of Warband as it would allow the Carthos to set the pace of combat in the centre, but I should have probably have gone with one or possibly two units of Auxilia instead.


The Numidians on the Cartho right. In standard OHW there is just 'cavalry' but there is such a tactical difference between the employment of light and heavy cavalry  that I added a new Light Cavalry type. These are essentially fast skirmishers with a longer range and in the playtests could hold their own very well against normal cavalry through a combination of shooting and running away. I might try out a Carrhae game and see how it goes.


Hasdrubal on the left, just a couple of bases of Carthaginian Cavalry. These are all plastic 20mm figures apart from Hannibal and Hasdrubal, who are Newlines metal figure. The plastics are predominantly HaT but the Gauls include Italieri and Airfix.


The Carthaginians looking rather grand. The Romans had more combat dice and more armoured troops but I rated Hannibal and Hasdrubal as better leaders so they had the option to add an extra dice in combat. Hannibal was also rated as 'brilliant' so once per game he could switch the turn order. Thanks for that idea Lost Battles. Unlike LB or CnC, I couldn't really reflect the C3 advantage the Carthos had, so this was the best I could do within the limitations of the OHW format. 



Hannibal opted for the historical deployment. So a weak centre (Gauls), Libyan heavies flanking them and cavalry on the flanks with the heavy cavalry down by the river. The original plan was to pull the Romans into the weak centre, then envelop and smash them. Lets see how that works out.


Hasdrubal and the slingers meet some goats out on the left flank.



First blood to the Romans! The Roman cavalry manage to get a charge in on Hasdrubal and inflict two hits. The Legions are pushing forward aggressively.


In the centre the Gauls close in on the Velites. The packed bases look rather imposing, but fortunately the blurry camera prevents a close inspection of the chaps with no trousers.


A bit of skirmishing on the right as the Cartho lights hurl missiles at the Romans (the massive shooting ranges assume the light troops are dashing forward then falling back to their supports, what a clever idea of Mr Thomas).


The Gauls pile into the Velites and one of the Legions, taking advantage of their ability to double time into combat (ie move two squares).


Amazingly the lightly armoured Gauls inflict two hits on the Romans while only suffering one in return. The big blue blob is the Romans objective square (counts as an extra unit destroyed if they take it), the red one is the Carthos. Another clever idea from Lost Battles.



The lines are looking a  bit ragged as the heavies close in.


The Libyan veterans and the Legionaires finally make contact. Meanwhile the Velites and Gauls continue to trade blows, despite the 3:1 combat advantage the Gauls have.


While the Gauls hang on in the centre, Hannibal leads the other Libyan heavies towards Pallaus. 



In the centre, the Velites finally break and Varrus finds himself face to face with a load of angry Gauls! At this point, Hannibal unleashed his 'brilliant general' ploy and the Carthos get two turns in a row.


The turn flip flop allowed Hasdrubal to finally break the Roman cavalry. Hasdrubal had consistently led from the front, at some considerable personal risk and it paid off, although the cavalry was left a bit ragged with four hits.


In a shock development, the Gauls also managed to rout the Romans holding the Carthaginian objective square. This really was unexpected, and the Romans really were appallingly unlucky here,  but suddenly the Roman centre is looking very vulnerable. Not much you can do against a triple six.


Hannibal engages Pallaus frontally while the slingers slip around their flank. They are pinned by the Velites however.


The Numidians fall back into reserve, ready to dash to whatever sector is needed.


With their flanks exposed Varrus and half the Roman army is now enveloped on both sides. Things aren't looking too good for the Romans.


Varrus sends the Gauls to his front packing.


But it is too little too late, and as more legions break and run, Varrus is left isolated and surrounded by Carthaginian units.


The Roman left wing is in slightly better shape, but still pinned in combat by no less than Hannibal himself, so its prospects of escape are poor.

We called it a day at that point as there was very little the Romans could do to stave off annihiliation. I've generally found the OHW Ancients to be one of the faster rules variants as once the units are engaged, it is basically one huge close combat which goes on until one side runs for it. We wrapped the whole thing up in about an hour, which with seven players wasn't bad going.


Man of the match was Hasdrubal whose personal bravery unhinged the Roman right flank.

That all went pretty well. There was a bit of confusion about the double time and break off rules, and I need to have a think about how better to express my intentions within the constraints of two sides of A4. Unlike the playtests, Hannibal managed  not to get killed this time, and used his double turn 'special power' to good effect. I know the combat system works as we've tested it so extensively with the WW2 variant, but I was pleased with the square based movement. Light troops had a definite mobility advantage without it being overwhelming, and heavy troops were restricted but not rendered completely inert.

I think the main problem is that which dogs all combat heavy Ancients sets - once battle battle is joined, there is very little for the players to actually do except roll dice. Lost Battles and CnC at least give the players some options each turn, but OHW doesn't have a sophisticated activation system so for the Romans at least, once they were engaged in combat, all they could do was hope for the best. The Carthos had more options as they had a more mobile army and could dictate the pace of the action. For what it was though, it worked fine and I was pleased with it. We also achieved a vaguely plausible result in a reasonable amount of time, which is always good.



Saturday, 3 April 2021

Portable Wargame and Lockdown at VCOW

I was keen to get along to Bob and Garys session on the Portable Wargame, as I own several of

the books and we’ve tried a few games of this both face-face and remotely in different periods.

For whatever reason, we’ve run into various issues (generally related to geometry). I was therefore

keen to see it played how it was meant to be played. This was a popular session with several players signed up and many observers.

The actual game session was a hypothetical vaguely ACW battle between Blue and Grey sides, and although it used the standard SPs and weapon ranges, didn’t appear to use the any of the unit activation mechanisms, it was straight initiative then igougo. Both sides got stuck in fairly quickly, but there was a bit of confusion around movement in close quarters in terms of interpenetration and flank attacks. On re-reading the original rules again, I realised I’d completely misinterpreted them with regard to unit interpenetration, although I’m not convinced brigades of close order troops can simply march through each other, particularly when retreats through other units are barred.



The assembled multitudes!


There was an interesting presentation on the history of the PW, and I hadn't released how much  it owed to ‘Grid Wargames’ (which I also own).

One of the later PW iterations, the Napoleonic set.



The Battle of Two Hills Farm, the scenario for this session.


Both sides lined up on the table. This is similar to the sort of setup we use at the Sheffield club.


The 'hand of god' shoves the toys around under the direction of the players.


Unsurprisingly a huge melee developed around the farm.


The coloured markers were indicators of troop quality.


Eventually the Greys came out on top (apologies if I've got that the wrong way around!).


Gary was resolving close combat as per the written rules (5+ to hit, adjusted for modifiers) whereas

the rules QRS provided by Bob was using the system from the Napoleonic rules (roll 3+ to avoid being hit), which also caused a bit of confusion and led to a useful discussion on the pros and and cons of each approach.


The session was very helpful as it prompted considerable discussion on the design intention and how the rules are supposed to work, which isn’t something you can get from a book, and one of the things which COW brings to game design. I had been to some of the very early PW test sessions at COW but things have obviously moved on from there, so it was a very helpful session in understanding the intent behind some of the mechanisms. One thing which Bob underlined was the important of not changing the artillery activation sequence, as it encourages players to get their artillery set up and then blaze away, something I heartily agree with.


One of the great things about the Portable Wargame is the way it has inspired dozens of other gamers to take the basic game and develop in interesting ways for multiple periods, the only other set of rules which is comparable might be DBA. Neil Thomas’s various rules might be another contender, but there is much more variety in the basic sets of rules, whereas the Portable Wargame remains pure to its principles in every iteration.




Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Spring is here, and it is time to paint

 Regular readers may have noticed a dearth of modelling posts in recent months. I often lose my painting mojo over winter, and retreat into the festive season making the most of the short days instead. This lockdown winter has been particularly tough, and while I've kept up my regular gaming sessions with my pals from Sheffield Wargames Society and Wargames Developments, putting on the odd game has been my sole wargaming activity and I haven't picked up a brush in months.

Anyway, things are changing. The sun is appearing more often (in between the howling gales, and torrential rain/hail/snow storms), the days are longer and I got my jab a couple of weeks ago.

Hooray for the National Health Service! And we can actually start to meet up with people outside again soon. 

I often start painting projects in spring, it used to correspond with a bit of a shopping spree at Triples, and there is something about it being a bit lighter during the day which encourages me to get the paint brush out. I have a few projects I've been meaning to get around to for a while, mainly aimed at filling some odds and ends in for particular games I have planned. This was kickstarted with this little gem last week:


One of my old H&R 75mm pack howitzers with a paratrooper crew, rebased onto my more modern bases.


And there are suddenly two of them. What could they be for? Well, you'll just have to wait and see,


Anyway, various delivery organisations have been dropping off parcels this week (aren't modern logistics wonderful). Aircraft, tanks, infantry, support vehicles and with more on the way next week. Plenty to keep me going over the new few months, and plenty of new material for some mid-week modelling posts.  

I was particularly excited to discover that Zvezda do a T-28 with two turret options (thanks Tom), even if it looks like one of their more complex kits on opening the box. I did notice a bit of a shortage of Zvezda stuff online, possibly a victim of Brexit? Who knows. I managed to get most of the stuff I was after, and I've also got some of the re-sculpted Peter Pig figures to play with.


So what on earth have I been doing all winter when I haven't been playing wargames? Hmm, well apparently racking up over 192 hours of play on Fallout: New Vegas, Ultimate Edition. Thoroughly recommended, and they really don't make computer games as intricate as this one any more. I have managed to bring peace and stability of a sort to the post nuclear wasteland around La Vegas now, so it is time to put the Xbox away for a bit and do something else. Still a couple of DLC quests to do, so I may come back to it at some point, but not for a while.


Saturday, 27 March 2021

Battle of the Jarama - Playtesting Spanish Civil War operational rules

I have a certain hankering to go back to the Spanish Civil War again, and I've had a long standing design for a scenario covering the Battle of the Jarama in 1937. Somewhere or other I found a very detailed OB which actually listed the battalion level composition of the Nationalist brigades as well as the artillery holdings for both sides rather than the vague acounts you find in Thomas, Beevor et al.  Originally I thought I'd do it using Megablitz, in a similar manner to the 1938 Battle of the Ebro game I ran years ago, but MB doesn't really work in a remote multiplayer environment as it relies on hidden strength points, hidden order chits and hidden combat results and I can't think of a way of modding it for remote play without breaking many of its core systems.

It was easy enough to tweak OP14 into something more suitable for 1936 though, by simply beefing up the armour and air support rules and modifying the ground scale a bit to represent the rather more dispersed units and the timescale to allow for the increased ground scale. Job done I thought,  but then came the interesting experience of seeing how it actually played out.


At a ground scale of 5km = one hex, it ended up looking something like this. Madrid is off the top of the map, the Jarama runs through the hills in the middle and the main road from Madrid to Valencia is off to the right. This is already a bit bigger in frontage than the average WW1 battle (avid readers may recall the Battle of Amiens on a front of 12km I ran a year or so ago). If we were playing this f2f I'd go with a smaller ground scale (say 3km per hex) but there are limits to what my camera can sensibly show to remote players.


Next up, I tried some deployments. For playest purposes I just used one base per brigade, each brigade represents a couple óf thousand troops (3-4 weak battalions), already much smaller than the WW1 equivalents. However, I could manage a passable imitation of the deployment of Pozas's Central Army Corps with eight mixed brigades along its historical front and even manage a small reserve.


On go the Nationalists from the Army of Africa. Their brigades are quite big, typically composed of two regiments, each of multiple battalions. Mmmm. OK, well they can have two units per brigade, they've also got those bad boys from the Condor Legion with Panzer Abt 88 and a ton of artillery including 155s and 88s, plus a really annoying cavalry brigade with three weak regiments. So I'll have to let the brigades stack as irl they had wildly varying frontages.


They've also got some planes. Condor Legion Ju52s vs Soviet supplied Pe 2s. I didn't bother repainting the markings. OK, so there is a fair bit of stuff there but not particularly more dense than other OP14 games we've run, certainly nothing like Peronne 1918 where I had something like six entire Corps on the table.


And off we go. The Army of Africa smashes into the surprised Republicans and pushes them back over the Jarama. After a few days Lister and El Campensinos communists and International Brigades rock up and push the Nationalists back again, to a degree. That was a fairly typical rhythm for all the bigger SCW battles as both sides only had the resources to fight one major engagement at a time.


So we end up with this sort of thing. Moroccan Regulares have made it over the river and up onto the heights, but Pavlovs Tank Brigade and the IBs are bravely counterattacking up Suicide Hill and have pushed the Regulares and their accompanying Panzer 1s back across the river into St Martin de la Vega.

All well and good, I played this through a couple of times and although the activation, movement, combat and reorganisation mechanisms worked fine, I hit a snag. SCW battles are long, really long. The Jarama lasted, in fits and starts from the 6th Feb until the end of the month, although the climax of the battle was on the 12th-14th. OP14 doesn't do long battles very well, it works for a day or two (or maybe three) at most and even with just two turns a day, it was taking forever with the whole overnight exhaustion/reorg sequence becoming quite onerous.

Sure, I could have gone for a smaller part of the action, but that rather defeated the point as these aren't large forces - maybe 25,000 Nationalists and 30,000 Republicans with less than a hundred tanks and planes on each side. For whatever reason, the force, space and time ratios weren't working - a function of more modern force densities with WW1 era command systems I suspect.

So, back to the drawing board. The map scale looked about right, as was the level of troop representation, I just needed something which could run multi-day Army level battles with a bit less faffing than OP14, and I had a go with Panzergruppe instead. I had to fiddle with the unit ratings a bit and the deployment was a bit different due to the shorter artillery ranges and lack of strong ZOC.


Off we went again. Here the Nationalists have pushed hard on the north and south flanks, bypassing the Republican centre. Barcuelos cavalry keep them pinned place, but already the Regulares are next to to the Republican gun positions.

This effort felt much slicker as the reorganisation and supply sequence is built into each game turn. Units face the same choices of march, fight or reorg but it is all integrated into a single decision point. The only real tweak I made to the existing system was allowing units to try and reorg when they were adjacent to the enemy, albeit it at a penalty. This is quite a high density battlefield compared to the Ukraine in 1942 and forcing units to break contact to reorg seemed to be too much. This may  be too beneficial to the defence, but seemed to play OK in practice. The reorg mechanism is something I've fiddled with on and off ever since I first wrote Sinai 67 and I've never really taken into account the larger ZOC sizes which came from moving to a grid.


So here the Nationalists have pushed Posas back to the Jarama in the south, hits are scattered all around, but the Nationalist units are much stronger and can bear them. The two Republican units closest the camera have only one hit left each and  need to make a choice - stand and dig in? stand and reorganise, or leg it back a hex to avoid another Nationalist attack next turn. In the event they managed to reorg, but the converged Nationalist attack pushed them back again and gained a bridgehead over the river. 


Up in the north the Republicans have managed to get their guns and one shattered brigade over the Pindoque rail bridge, while one unit holds a bridgehead supported by the guns on the far side. The pursuing Nationalist are also a bit ragged with multiple hits. Stop or reorg? The main road to Madrid is only a few km away now (the town and bridge in the top right corner) so the Nats opted for a desperate attack which just succeeded (adjusted combat value of 11 vs 10!) and the Republican brigade fell back.


So in turn Barcuelos cavalry crossed the River Manzanares and are parked right next to the road to Madrid. The road is now cut by their ZOC, while the replenished panzers and field guns move up in support. Oooer! What are the Republicans going to do about that - although in fact next turn Listers division came piling down the road from Madrid and thoroughly blocked Barcuelos unsupported cavalry, who also happen to have outrun their supply lines.

This worked pretty well, and the simpler turn sequence meant it was easier to keep track of the unit supply status, which was pretty important as it was the only thing stopping the Nats waltzing across the map in the first few turns. I also experimented with card driven activation for each major unit to model and element of command friction, but it just slowed things up, and in the end I opted to revert to a dice driven initiative system modifed by command quality for each side, which introduced enough friction without going down the whole OP14 card system. The 15mm toys weren't overpowering either, although 6mm would fit the hexes better, but I prefer the character of the bigger figures for this period and the vehicles are all fairly tiny.

So, good to go I think, and it was enjoyable doing some run throughs of the a scenario I've had planned for at least 15 years and good to be doing some proper play testing. I suspect it will still be a bit chaotic in a remote environment as the units aren't as well defined as in OP14, but I'll just have have to try and keep track of stuff. It doesn't help that at this stage neither side really had divisions as combat formations, just a random assortment of brigades under varying levels of ad-hoc higher HQ. I still think OP14 would work for the SCW, but for more restricted actions spanning a day or two. I shall try this out on the Sheffield group and see how we get on.