Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cold Wars Report (6)

First off, I would like to welcome new reader Kaptain Kolbold. I hope you enjoy the blog.

In case you don't read my other blogs, I went to Cold Wars 2012 and so I am (slowly) writing up the games and sights. My reports that were of a more general wargaming nature appeared on my Dale's Wargames blog (first, second, and fifth reports), while the DBA and HOTT oriented ones appeared on my Dale's DBA blog (third and fourth reports).

This blog has the two games recreating the battle of Zama, using Matt Kirkhart and John Acar's "craftees" – wooden soldiers made from wood craft parts like thread spools, plugs, split eggs, and such. Believe it or not, this was the game that I travelled across the country for. I wanted to see these wooden soldiers for myself, plus play a mass ancients game using Matt's rules, Arrayed for Battle! It was well worth the trip.

First off, a little about the rules. They can be found for free on the Wargaming on a Budget forum on Yahoo in the Files section. They are based on Joe Morschauser's rules with a command and control element similar to DBA. Units have morale, fighting, armor, and movement attributes. Morale and fighting is expressed as a value to be rolled on a D6 or less.

The Scenario


Game One

In the first game I played the Romans, specifically the right flank command consisting of the Numidian cavalry and warriors and one "column" of Romans.
Game Two

Unfortunately, my camera had died before the second game, so there are no pictures. The basic battle went roughly the same. This time, however, I was on the Carthaginian side, on the opposite flank (with the Carthaginian cavalry facing the Roman cavalry).

The biggest change was that the elephant's Rampage rule was put into effect. Initially it sounded like the Rampage rule would be a benefit – of a sort – to the Carthaginian player. That was not so. Basically this rule reflects that the beasts are unmanageable and they automatically rampage at the end of each melee round. The net effect was that once elephants got into melee, they would continue to drain you of Command Points in order to keep them effective.

I will be honest; I don't really know how effective elephants were in combat in the ancient world. Against untrained, superstitious barbarians they probably were. Against the Romans they apparently became less effective as time wore on. By Zama, they appear to have been useless, if the Zama articles in Slingshot and many rules are any indication. (In DBA they are pretty effective in combat, but they are just harder to get them into it, or to maneuver in general.) In hindsight, if we had really wanted to win, we should have pulled our elephants back into reserve and used them at the end of the battle, when things are less ordered. They would have been destructive hitting the flank of a heavy infantry unit.

In the second game, having experience in why the Carthaginians failed in the first game, I encouraged all of the infantry commanders to press forward hard. One difference that came in to play this round was that the Celts lost their 9" charge. This was a bad change, in my opinion, as it allowed the advancing Romans to game their approach and stay just out of 6" range, making the Celts lose their charge bonus. I think this was a factor as to why the Carthaginian infantry battle could not make any real headway and all of the Celts died quickly in the second game.

I, of course, cheated a little and rather than keep the rigid "column" formation had peeled off the elephants and the third line Veterans to support my cavalry attack on the flank. It worked, to some extent, but while my missile dice were hot as the Romans, my melee dice were not as the Carthaginians. The cavalry melee came down to two units on two units, equally matched. One of my units broke first, but his first broke quickly afterwards. The cavalry continued to grind until both sides had simply to kill one base of the other side, and then it to fail its morale check, and it would be all over. After some tense die rolling, it was the Romans that cracked, and the Carthaginians victorious!

One change that had made a difference in the second game was to rate the elephants as Expendable. This allowed the Carthaginians to lose those five units and not have them count against the army morale. This was a good rule change but it was count-balanced by making the elephants Command Point drains. (I actually cheered when my damn elephant died!) Seems like the rules need to be tweaked more there.

The Carthaginians again lost the left flank, which like the elephant losses, was inevitable. The Roman-Numidian player did much as I did and wrapped the flank firing at the infantry, and using one to harras us in the rear. With time running out, Carthaginians units falling faster than Romans the game was called at about 11 PM in favor of the Romans. The Carthaginians had not won – not by a long shot – but it had made a better showing than in the first game. Given that the rules changes might have been net negative to the Carthaginians, I think that was a good result for us. Can't have Hannibal winning, now can we?

Rules Review

I like the rules Arrayed for Battle, and would gladly play them again. I would like to run my own game of them to see where the hole might be, but they played well and allowed the Player-General to focus on tactics and not on the fiddly bits of unit maintenance. The key to games these rules are the special rules themselves. Get them right and the scenario goes well. I think that, for the most part, the special rules were right.

As for the core rules I think the only part lacking is the inability of a unit to turn to flank or rear after combat has started. I think that if a unit is unengaged to the front, and after it has fought one round of combat against the unit to flank or rear, the unit can elect to take a Disorder marker and face the opponent.


Another area that caused some heartburn is the contact rule. This was cleaned up for the second game, but I can see some problems coming up in complex melees. Basically the rule, as I understood it, was to center each unit's front edge on the edge that it struck, after the initial round of combat. The figure below shows an example.


Note that the dashed green circle shows the "anchor point" (for want of a better term). As the red unit is attacked on two edges it is essentially anchored and the other units around it must shift. At the beginning of the melee on turn two, the shifts are as follows:

  1. The blue unit in contact with the front of the anchored red unit shifts to the left so its front is centered on the front of the enemy.
  2. The blue unit in contact with the flank of the anchored red unit shifts up so its front is centered on the flank of the enemy.
  3. The unanchored red unit shifts back and to the right in order to center its front on the blue unit's flank.
This brings to mind a few questions though.

  • If this shifting occurs at the beginning of the second melee round, but only for units that have gone through a melee round, what happens with units that have just entered the melee this round? (Multi-round melees are very common.)
  • How do you pick the anchor unit (the unit that will not move?
  • What happens when a unit is shifted out of multiple contacts into a single contact?

Like every good rules, special cases will have to be worked out but just with my own thought exercises I think the shifting of units should occur at the end of the first melee round rather than the beginning of the second melee round. This solves a number of problems about who can and cannot shift, and who should shift in the case of conflict shifts.

Figure Review

As this is the Wooden Warriors blog and not Dale's Wargames it only seems appropriate that I review the figures. John's Carthaginians included five elephant units, each consisting of an elephant figure and two stands of supporting light infantry.


The infantry are micro shaker pegs and tile spacers for the arms. The elephant consists of three split robin's eggs, a heart, and a spool. John seemed to think that the spool he used was too long, not giving the elephant enough of a belly. I think it looked great. The eyes were great as some were scowling.

The Celts were a very beefy figure, as shown below. They were distinctly larger figures and easily identifiable on the field (which is a good thing).


These figures were simple constructions in that the majority of the figure is a candle cup (upside down). Either a round head plug or a button plug served as the figure's head, while tile spacers made up the arms. Shields were decorated with custom inkjet printed shield designs. Very effective!

The Carthaginian citizen units also received the printer treatment for their shields, with each unit having a different (uniform) device (primarily to sort which stands belonged to which units, if I understood correctly). Clothing was not uniform, however, which made for a nice effect.


Again, the figures are micro shaker pegs and tile spacers for the arms. Very simple construction that looks great on the table.


The Veteran infantry is constructed a little differently, largely to show that they wear more army and to make them distinctive on the table. Their body is a spool with a button plug serving as the head and helmet. Again, tile spacer arms and printed shields make these units look great on the table.


The Carthaginian horse was constructed very similarly to the Veterans. They are spool and button plug with the horses being three split wren's eggs and a spool. Tile spacers serve as the arms and legs of the figures.


Note that because the bottom of the thread spool was not cut off (and I don't blame John as cutting round spools is a bear of a task), it makes the cavalry a hit taller than normal. But, then again, what is "normal" with a craftee?!?


The Numidian light horse are micro shaker pegs on horses of three split wren's eggs and a spool. Very effective paint jobs. Also, now that I have seen the pipe cleaner manes I think they are very effective. If I were to get more into the 25mm scale (as these are), and I could find the appropriate chenille pipe cleaners, I would use them too.


This is what the Carthaginian army looks like arrayed for battle.

Matt's pictures for the Roman army can be found on the Wargaming on a Budget forum on Yahoo. I cannot link to the photos there as they will only be visible if you are a member. And if you are a member, well you can just view them over there!

7 comments:

  1. This is amazing work. Thank you so much for posting this. I went to Cold Wars 12 as well. When did you run this game?

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  2. I did not run the games, but participated in them. I specifically came to Cold Wars from Arizona to meet the guys putting on the game and see these figures. Matt Kirkhart usually runs a game at all of the HMGS East conventions (Fall In, Cold Wars, and Historicon), but this year he teamed up with John Acar and they both put on this game, twice on Saturday. Unfortunately, we were stuck in one of the Host Rooms, so their games did not get much "drive by" exposure.

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  3. Update to come. The current maps incorrectly show the Romans at the top and the Carthaginians at the bottom! Boy, what a mistake to make!

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  4. Hey Dale,

    Thanks very much for the great battle report and rules and figure reviews. Great stuff and just like with everything else on your blog, excellent "press" for the Craftees movement in general.

    I thought I would throw in my thinking on the rules issues that your brought up.

    First and foremost, I'm a big believer in folks making the rules their own. They are at best guidelines and I think people should tweak and outright change things they do not like or that do not fit their gaming style or ideas. You clearly already know I feel this way, I just put this in for your blog readers who may not know that is my approach to rules even my own.

    Second, I gotta go with Neil Thomas; any set of wargaming rules is indicative of the biases and preconceptions of the rules writer in terms of the writer's belief about warfare during that period as well as his preferences for types of play, characteristics of the game, etc. My rules are CLEARLY not an exception. So, I will start there with my own biases and what I was trying to get the game to "play like."

    I have to admit that I am in the camp of those who believe it is rather silly to have a set of wargame rules for the "ancient" period that span 3000 BC to about 1500 AD. I even think it is a bit of a stretch to claim that there was little in the way of significant weapons development that changed warfare during this very large stretch of human history, but even if one goes with that assumption it is difficult to swallow that the warfare involving the phalanx formations fighting on the open flat plains of Greece and Asia Minor was not any different than the warfare involving the flexible Roman formations against the "barbarian" tribes with their style of fighting in the rough and broken terrain of central and northern Europe, or even later than that the warfare during the Dark Ages or the Crusades. My rules are clearly influenced by my understanding of and desire to game the period of the rise and the fall of the traditional Greek/Macedonian phalanx, from about 700 BC to the end of the Successors influence. In my opinion, the rules do a pretty good job of providing a flavor for this period and type of warfare. Anything beyond this period or style of fighting would need some modifications. Could these things be addressed with the special abilities for each unit? Partly I think so, yes, but there are some more significant rules changes that are probably needed and at least one of your rules comments is indicative of this I think.

    Given that I'll now comment on the two points raised about the rules. I'll start with the "easy" one first.

    It has not bothered me during play to leave the units where they are when they make contact (not "evening them up" in other words). Having a rule that only one enemy can be on each side makes the exact location of the enemy unit not as important. That said, I am clearly in the minority on this point, and your suggestions about evening up the units and how and when to do so I think are great and clean this up for most players. I really do not see my tendency to not want to even them up as being an important aspect of game play. It doesn't provide anything to the game that is representative of the period, make the game easier to play, etc., so this modification you suggest I think is probably good if for no other reason it reduces arguments between players during play. I'm all for that!

    Looks like this is a lot of characters so I will do my post in two separate entries.

    Matt

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  5. Hey Dale,

    Part two.

    The second point raised is about units turning to face enemy who are in contact with their flank or rear if they are no longer engaged to their front or not engaged on any other side (in other words one enemy on each flank or one to the flank and one to the rear). Not turning to face is a VERY old school type rule that in my reading is only present in wargames rules before 1970. I honestly haven't read them all, but in the "classic" wargame books I've read to date I have yet to find a rule set after 1970 that does not allow a unit to turn to face the enemy. I really like NOT letting a unit turn to face and here is why; be sure to appreciate here that why I like it is because of my own biases and preferences for understanding the period and having the game play in a particular way.

    I wanted a rule structure that would mimic the descriptions of battle lines in the period I described above. Again, when you throw in the various flexible formations of the Roman heavy infantry and other more flexible approaches in warfare chronologically later, these ideas I'm about to state do not apply, and to me this was a significant change in the way ancient battles were fought. Anyway, I wanted a rule system that would allow movement of units to be fairly flexible until contact with the enemy occurs. At that point movement becomes greatly restricted. This I wanted to be particularly the case with heavy infantry that in my understanding in phalanx warfare in particular was something that once you committed it, it was committed and that was it. It was very difficult to "recall" a phalanx or maneuver a phalanx once it is in contact with the enemy, etc. Cavalry and light troops are described as having more flexibility even once in contact with the enemy, but not the heavy infantry. I also wanted to stress the importance of a coherent battle line in the game and the need to protect the flanks of that long coherent line. This too is a characteristic of the ancient battle accounts during the period so I wanted to reward players who maintained the battle line (which would require that units stay in line facing the same way) while using light troops or cavalry to "buzz" around the flanks keeping them protected. If you want to lose quickly with these rules the first thing to do is break your main battle line into more than one part, and the second thing to do is to leave a flank unprotected!

    So, this is the reasoning behind the rule of not allowing a unit to "turn to face." I do not mean to imply that these units did not fight to their flanks and rear. They just were not able to reform the entire unit while in contact with the enemy in a way that allowed them to fight just as well after doing so as they would have had they initially contacted the enemy with their front in that direction.

    Uh-oh, too many characters again. Looks like there will be a part 3.

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  6. Part 3

    In the game there is a mechanism that allows something similar to turning to face to happen, but heavy infantry are not allowed to do it. Once they are committed to a path that contacts the enemy, that's the way they will face until they are disengaged from the enemy either through winning or losing the melee (becoming "spent" or "broken" in the rules). Light infantry and cavalry are not so committed. Light infantry may disengage (move away and end facing the enemy) and so may cavalry. In additional, cavalry can only be "re-engaged" during that same turn by other cavalry (even light infantry cannot "catch" them when they disengage). So these troops not in a phalanx formation do have more flexibility in disengaging with an enemy to their flank or rear and eventually "turning to face" the enemy, but even these units are not allowed to maintain melee contact while doing so. They literally must have somewhere to "move to" to get away from the enemy and reform facing them. This creates a flexibility in maneuver after melee contact that I think is consistent with the reports of units in ancient warfare: cavalry with the most flexibility, light infantry next, and heavy infantry without any real flexibility once committed. But again, the lack of a "turn to face" maneuver in the game is VERY inconsistent with modern rules, which from a game play point of view may not be such a good thing. Players count on this and it is sometimes the source of frustration and confusion when they are not allowed to do this with their heavy infantry units during the game.

    So, Dale your idea to allow the unit to turn to face and be disordered is a nice one in terms of fitting in with the existing game mechanics. In fact, I think it is a brilliant use of the "meta-view" of the game as a whole as it adds in nothing new in terms of a new rule mechanic and it is completely consistent with how "disorder" plays out in the game. Would I do it in my games? I would not for the period I'm describing because for me I just don't see the heavy infantry of that period being able to accomplish that. Would I use it in other periods, say Imperial Romans fighting Germans or other "barbarians" in the rough terrain of northern Europe or Britannia? Frankly, yes I probably would. This seems more consistent with the reports from folks like Caesar and others for the warfare of that period, in particular the smaller unit conflicts that were so common.

    Uh-oh, part 4 on the way.

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  7. Part 4

    That said, a possible modification for the "phalanx period," for lack of a better term, would be to allow a heavy infantry unit that is in contact with only one enemy unit and that enemy unit is to its flank or rear to still not be able to disengage or turn to face, but instead to fight that enemy unit with a STR of 3 instead of the normal STR of 2. It basically turns that fighting capability of the heavy infantry unit on that side into the functional equivalent of a "medium infantry" unit like a peltast unit. Historically this is probably what it looked like as they cohesiveness of the phalanx just isn't possible to maintain to the flank so you end up with these heavily armored fellows in a looser formation fighting with a mixture of swords, spears, etc., much like what a well-armored peltast unit would be doing fighting to its front. Heavy infantry usually have at least a STR 4 to their front, so they would still not be getting the full benefit of the phalanx formation, but their good armor and weapons would still allow them after the first turn anyway and if fighting no other enemy unit at the time to rally their resources and fight a bit more effectively in that situation. Similarly, the STR 3 is still greater than the STR 2 the unit would be using if there were multiple units fighting it with at least in one case the unit fighting an enemy to its flank or rear. So if it is only fighting to its flank or rear against one enemy its STR would be 3. However, if it is fighting one unit to its front and one to its flank, that flank attack STR would be 2. Against multiple enemies the psychological impact would be tremendous and they would not be as likely to be able to marshal enough resources to fight equivalently to a STR 3 to its flank or rear in that situation.

    Units that are typically STR 3 to their front to start with would not get this benefit and would still be STR 2 to the flank or rear even against only one enemy unit. Usually STR 3 units are light so they would have the opportunity to disengage and face the enemy with their front anyway. STR 2 units to their front are usually skirmisher units or very light infantry (poorly armored) so a well-armored STR 3 to its front unit probably fights like a skirmish unit to its flank or rear.

    I'll have to give this one some more thought.

    Matt

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