Saturday, November 28, 2015

Something more on villages and towns

After my previous posting I thought I should dilate upon how I use the 'profiles' or 'footprints'  to depict towns and villages.  I don't use fixed stands as such, much preferring the flexibility of free standing buildings, houses, churches and other urban edifices.  But a fixed, well defined, area upon which to stand them has considerable advantages.

As the profiles aren't always conveniently sized to accommodate buildings and the spaces between (streets, alleyways, village greens and back yards), I place the priority on the buildings, and leave just enough space, no more, to suggest a main thoroughfare, maybe some side alleys and what not.  Gate houses or gate towers are great in this context, because they take up building space, whilst at the same time indicating and alternative ingress/egress from the town.

Take the fairly sizable settlement to the right. Let's call it Dampotz. The buildings are closely arranged on a 30cm x 20 cm space.  Under my Big Battles scheme this would represent a town roughly 1100 metres long by 720 wide. There is enough space between buildings to show the main street running down from the northwest, and, after a right angled turn left, exiting the town towards the northeast.  A side street leads to a road heading initially in a southwest direction.

The question is, how do we accommodate a garrison?

The photo to the left is the same town of Dampotz, with its garrison of 32 Prussian figures.  The buildings have been pushed in from the edge just enough to accommodate the figures (that the Prussians are on 2x2 stands is a bit of an inconvenience, but not a serious one).  

To determine the size of the garrison, my convention here is the same as that I use for individual buildings.  The maximum garrison is the number of individual figures that can be lined up in a single rank along two contiguous sides, without overlapping.  Or, if it is easier (e.g. on account of its irregular shape, say) the number of figures that could be lined up within half the town's perimeter.

As my individual figure bases are in this case 1.5cm (15mm), exactly 20 can be lined up along the long side (20x1.5cm=30cm); and 13 is the maximum along the  short side (13x1.5cm=19.5cm). Total: 33.  So the 32-figure garrison in this case is one short of the maximum allowable.  The maximum number of defenders than can fight on one face of the town is again the number that can be lined up, as before, along that face.  Here, the maximum 20 figures stand ready to face an attack from the south west, the remaining 12 await an assault from the south east.   If attacked from one direction only, the remaining garrison can be used to replace losses among the defenders facing attack. 

A town this size with a full garrison you can imagine is unlikely to be carried in the first rush by an assaulting column.  Now we run into a consideration that one doesn't so much with individual buildings. Suppose that the attackers did succeed in driving back the defenders along, let's say the south east face (in the above picture under observation by a force of Cuirassiers).  The defenders will be forced back 15cm, say, measured from the rear the stands.  In making this measure, the rear half of a 2x2 stand would have to be ignored.  The assault column would follow up, no doubt.  But now the whole garrison may join in the defence.  The idea is that the unknowable twists and turns, peculiarities and accidents of the town's growth would augment the garrison's ability to bring all its strength to bear.  

If this seems unrealistic (it would certainly be bloody), an alternative approach suggests itself: the attackers can follow up with no more than the maximum number allowable to the defence in the direction of the attack.  In this instance, both sides will be able to draw upon immediately available reserves to replace further losses, the defenders from the rest of the garrison; the attackers from the assault column remaining outside.  I'll have to play test both options at some time or other.

The small village (Zosspanz) to the right measures 13cmx10.5cm.  Its maximum garrison is therefore  15 figures (8figures+7figures). Below it is seen with its garrison ready and waiting. The buildings are kept in more or less their relative positions and orientation, just moved enough accommodate the garrison stands. This method is fairly convenient as regards garrisons, whilst preserving a certain aesthetic verisimilitude.  I think.

As the 2x2-stands take up more room in depth than is desirable (and I haven't made up my mind to cut them into 2 1x2-stands), a certain amount of overlapping beyond the village precincts is acceptable.  

Owing to the small size of this place, a determined and successful assault might well evict the garrison in the first rush - a 15cm push-back carrying the defenders beyond the  built up area behind them.  As before, the complicating matter of the 2x2 stands (man I regret that decision!) forces one to ignore the instances in which just the rear half of such stands are forced back from the town.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Buildings - the problem of scale.

One of the vexing things in assembling war games battlefields is the matter of buildings - farms, chateaux, hamlets, villages and towns - summed up by that favourite of all war games acronyms, BUA (Built Up Areas).  It is difficult to find an ideal that reasonably approximates the scale of the figures, with the minimum of ground profile.  And how ought one to treat BUAs anyway?
The leading picture in Ross Mac's recent posting (Battle Game of the Month) is of a gridded war game dating back to the 1960s.  In it I recognised several buildings of the type featured in the first two pictures of article. I bought these so long ago - thirty years or more - that I have no recollection who the makers are. Printed on light card stock, they are very easily assembled.  They probably ought to be mounted on some sort of base, for the sake of solidity, as they aren't what you would call robust. Approximately 'to scale' with 15mm figures, they don't look so out of place with the 20+mm plastic Prussians, or the 25mm Hinchliffe cuirassiers in the photo.  Even the large buildings seen in the leading picture have a fairly small 'footprint'.
I have otherwise experimented with home made buildings.  The above walled farmhouse was carved from a foam rubber block.  Not a total success, I've not had the heart to deep six it, though it rarely features in my battles.
These have been more successful, but were intended to be large buildings - country houses, taverns. or public buildings.  Two we made using 'brick paper' obtainable at hobby shops, from which tunnel facings are made.  They seemed to me quite suitable for this purpose.  Only the ground floor of the right hand building of the trio used this material.  The rest was made from cereal packet.  The black timbering was fiddly to say the least!

The two to the right were an experiment that wasn't quite the success hoped for.  They were intended to represent small built up areas upon which troop stands could be placed on the clear bit to represent garrisons.  I have an idea I intended to enclose the space with walls or fences.  The addition of the figures in the picture below give an idea of the scale.  Memory tells me they were based on an idea from other local war gamers, who used them for Volley and Bayonet games (and these featured some very remarkable and extremely well made examples of war games architecture).

 This little water mill was cut from a cereal packet.  It does not do to waste opportunities!

The above farm buildings were picked up cheaply at a bring and buy.  I have a second stables building like that above - very versatile piece.  The cobblestones we simply some plastic packing for chocolates or biscuits or something such.  A grey drybrushing overall yielded the cobblestone effect. I have found that a BUA profile ('footprint') useful in many respects for defining its limits, and whether a garrison can or not claim its cover.  If the buildings are mounted on top, then the profile defines the town.  But one can alternatively place buildings around it, but in contact, leaving a cobbled or paved town square.  This method gives you a larger town area if you want it, and still retaining the 'well defined' effect that is desirable for the smooth running of the action.

The buildings in the pictures above and below were made from downloadable files and printed.  My experience with these indicate that it were preferable to print them on a heavier stock than your normal printing paper.  Alternatively paste them onto heavier card before assembly, if not before cutting out.  As you can see, the towers are good and tall, but have a very small ground profile.
The following are ceramic buildings bought at $2 the time four or five years ago.  Although they do 'go' with the other buildings, and there is the small matter of the thick bases to get past, yet they seem to me to evoke a sense of middle-European alpine villages.
The following two pictures are from the Usborne series, which I cannot recommend too highly. They are from the Make This Medieval Town  and  Make This Mediaeval Port. There is also a Make this Medieval Village title.  They come in book form, printed on thinnish card stock, and you get a big variety of buildings.  Excellent resource for war gamers!

As you can see from the pictures several of these are very small buildings.  The picture below features some of the larger houses, taverns and what have you placed in contact with a rectangular 'paved' area, upon which a building has been centrally placed.  The effect is to suggest quite a sizeable settlement - a town withal - the integrity of which is easily maintained during the accidents and vicissitudes of war games action.

 One of the conventions I used to adopt in my war games, is that individual buildings represented the internal arrangement of the built up area.  As buildings could be entered only through doors, and yet each building represented several, this approach had the effect of suggesting the alleyways and back streets that characterised any particular town.  It tended to make street fighting and interesting and hazardous business.  I've tended to depart from this approach, lately, with my larger scale battles.

The above pictures show the smaller buildings around a paved village square, and with 20mm plastic figures indicating scale.

The above rubber peasant hovels have been a very versatile pair, having the virtue of near-indestructibility. I added the colouring, painting and dry-brushing the thatch, and using felt-tip spirit pens for the rest. They came with rude rubber stone walls and a haystack that is now looking rather the worse for wear.
Finally, this is another home made set of building intended to represent a hamlet, farm or small village.  The brown masonry or brick work is again embossed sheet available from hobby shops.  The roofs were made from corrugated packing cut into strips and placed in overlapping layers.  The cobbled together outbuilding nearest the camera used up the last off cuts of the brown masonry sheet and corrugated cardboard,  The rest was simply plain cardboard painted with water colours to suggest timber construction.
There are five pieces to this home made set, which can be used in the manner shown here, or mixed in with other building for greater variety. The small tower that forms part of the building on the left is in fact a separate piece that can be stood alone.  Not pictured are some wall sections using the same brown masonry sheet with corrugated capping that can be used with these to make a walled farm or even a small chateau.  All these buildings were also constructed with an eye to minimising the ground 'footprint'.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The art of War

The pictures in this posting have nothing
at all to do with the substance of the text.
They are there to pretty up the thing
and because I like Alfred Hitchcock.
Recently I had occasion to revisit my little copy of The Art of War.  I thought this was authored by a certain Sun Tzu, but looking carefully at it, discover no named author is mentioned.  It is 'a composite of several military treatises which existed during the period of the Warring States (476-221 B.C.)'.

Glancing through this led me to some interesting points that have a relevance to violent events that have been visiting this world.  I have a feeling that right now the mightiest military powers in the world are being taught some sharp and timely lessons.  Here, from the chapter on planning (pp10-11):

War is mainly a game of deception.  The strong should feign weakness, the active inactivity.  If the goal is near, pretend it is far away.  If the objective is far off, pretend that it is close.

Lull the enemy with small 'victories'; entice them with bait.  Then attack and throw them into complete disorder so that they may be crushed with ease.

If the enemy is powerful, extra care must be taken... Know and avoid the enemy's strong points, attack their weaknesses.  If they are angry, provoke them further.  Pretend to be weak to make them arrogant and over-confident.  When they are eager for action, weary them with delays. When they are united, try to create discord...

It seems to me that the West needs to stand back and have a good long think, and not just about how to deal with global terrorism - especially given that the West is itself the author of much of it. It is no good running around aimlessly, yelling threats and firing off guns, and indiscriminately spreading unpleasantness all around.  The West ought also rethink its attitude toward, and treatment of, the rest of the world and its people.  We need to rethink how to resolve contention, competition and conflict. If our first recourse is to violence, as it has been, how can we honestly blame others for the same?
We aren't the good guys, here.  We haven't been for a long, long while.

Ancient/Mediaeval: Playtesting Paul Liddle's Rule Set (Part 2)

Second battle between Byzantines and Bulgars.
Playtesting Paul Liddle's rule set.
I confess this posting is by way of a filler, really.  It was a second playtest of Paul Liddle's Ancient/Mediaeval War Games Rule set, featuring those deadliest of enemies, the Bulgars and the Byzantines.  I will provide just the sparest of narratives, and let the pictures tell most of the story. But it ought to said here that in this battle, the goddess Hexahedrona favoured the Byzantines more than rather, at least until it was too late for their enemy to hope for an eleventh hour victory.
Both sides massed their foot in the centre with horsed troops
on the wings.
To recap the armies:
Bulgar, 14 units:
4 light horse archer units,
3 heavy horse archer units.
4 heavy spear units,
2 medium bow units,
1 light javelin unit.

Early disaster for the barbarians: left wing heavy cavalry
shot to pieces by Byzantine kavallarios archers.  The two
counters are there for pictorial purposes prior to the unit being
removed from play.
Byzantine, 12 units:
1 elite 'super' heavy horse unit (kataphraktoi),
2 heavy horse units (Tagmatic kavallarioi),
2 medium horse units (Thematic kavallarioi),
1 light horse unit (prokoursatores),
1 elite heavy spear unit (Varangian Guard),
3 heavy foot units (skutatoi),
1 medium spear unit (peltastoi),
1 light sling unit (sphendonistai).

The foot close in the centre,  The elite Varangians have taken a knock from
Bulgar archery.

The horse on the Bulgar right have closed.  The Bulgars have
extra light horse in hand.  This could spell trouble... 

The unengaged horse archers envelop the flank of the prokoursatores...
Despite being attacked in front and flank, the Byzantine light
horse refused to budge all day (these guys had a remarkably
successful record in DBM battles, and all - often against huge odds!)

Bulgars close in rather piecemeal, considering their heavies
lack fire power, and their bowmen lack heft.  Sensibly, though,
the archers keep their distance from the Varangians!

The Bulgar left flank looking a little vulnerable, with just
two light horse units to deal with 2 heavies and a 'super' heavy...

Collapse of the Bulgar left flank?  Not quite as events turned out.
But one light horse unit gets caught by pursuing kavallarioi.
 In the above picture, the Bulgar light horse archers evade the Byzantine heavies.  I had missed the 'waver' token that ought to have been placed against the evading units, but allowed the Byzantines a rear attack.  Having been shot up the previous turn, the Byzantines could add only one to their roll, which turned out to be insufficient.  Accompanied by a general, possibly this light horse unit ought not to have evaded anyway...
The situation on the Bulgar right is deadlocked.  Two Byzantine foot
units hasten there in anticipation of the prokoursatores defeat.

The charge of the kataphraktoi into their flank scatters an
archer unit (two counters there to signal that the unit be removed).

Tough fighting in the centre; the Byzantines getting the better of it.

Bows removed.
Inconclusive action on the wing.  The dice rolling here was
woeful for both sides

Bulgar left wing being bent back.

The view along the line.

Byzantines pressing; two more Bulgar units destroyed.

Bulgar left wing facing dissolution.

In quick succession the Bulgars lose from left to right, a bow
and a spear unit (out of picture to the left), the second bow unit,
and the Tsar's heavy cavalry unit.

Bulgars taking heavy damage.

Even the prokoursatores, assailed from front and flank,
are giving better than they are getting!

At last, a Bulgar success! The  Boili Attaboi's light horse
fling back the enemy heavy cavalry.

Suddenly the kataphraktoi have an open flank!
Far in the Bulgar rear, the Thematic kataphraktoi at last
ride down the fleeing horse archers.  
The above picture, arising from flight and pursuit based on something I had overlooked in the rules, ought not to have taken place - at least, not there.  But maybe it is something that needs to be revisited.
The overall situation late in the day.

Byzantines pressing in the centre, but that open flank is a worry...

Byzantines enveloping the Bulgar centre  right.

The prokoursatores still hanging tough!  The peltastoi 
are just about to lend a hand.

Led by Attaboi, the light horse change into the flank of the kataphraktoi...
Meanwhile, the Byzantine psiloi, and the Varangians have also broken.

The final result lent some respectability to Bulgar performance, but it was still a heavy defeat:

Byzantine losses: 3 units: Varangian elite spearmen, Thematic cavalry unit, the slingers.

Bulgar losses: 9 units: two light horse archer units, all three heavy horse archer units, both bow units, one spear unit, the javelin light foot.

The final action, as the Bulgar army finally collapses.