Tuesday, May 10, 2022

First test of Lost Battles

Yesterday I completed my first run (part-game) of Lost Battles and, as hoped and expected, they showed great potential for me.

I tried Bibracte, using Sabin's post-deployment positions provided on his map (see my previous post). Bibracte is one of 35 major battles in the book for which he provides a description, scenario and some analysis. I'll chiefly use photos and captions to describe this playtest/game, following on with some general observations and ideas of how I intend to progress with Lost Battles.

A note before you read on.
I made sure that I kept the units arrayed within the zone and most-often had the lead unit a little in advance of the others. This makes the photos look quite abstracted with precious little 'contact' between opposing forces that are supposed to be in deadly hand-to-hand combat! It's a factor of a novice with grids/zones in miniature wargaming, rather than a factor of the rules and how they work aesthetically. I think/hope that I improved with this as the game went on...

As with the historical action, it is the Helvetii and their allies who take the initiative in this game. I rolled an above average '5' for command, giving them a total of ten commands to use to open their account (after adding five for their army fighting value).

I wanted to charge straight in with the Gauls and used a double-move to perform this move, before re-reading and realising that I could not. So, as with the actual battle (Caesar's account, of course!), I could not contact the Romans, so contented myself with advancing the left-most group to the right-centre zone, costing two commands.

Next, the group to their left, using another two commands. For these I left two stands in the rear zone for some hoped-for, tricksy, flank stuff later on.

Then the last group of foot warriors. Four commands left.

These I used to turn the two bases of warriors that I had left behind in the rear zone and move them one zone to the left at a cost of two commands each.

Leaving the table looking thus.

I went one better for the Romans, rolling a '6', which gave thirteen commands when added to their base of seven. In addition, Caesar provides two command exemptions as he is rated as an 'average' commander for this battle/scenario (indicated by the red die).

I called it a night at that stage, saving the Roman phase of Turn 1 for my next instalment.

I took advantage of having loads of commands to 'spend', to bring on the un-deployed legionaries (at rear of the photo). These used two commands and could only enter the camp (which I indicated with a few shield markers and individual figures).

I used Caesar's command exemptions next (I don't think that there is any requirement to use them first?) for the appropriate purpose of sending the legions in the zone with him to attack the centre of the Helvetii line.

To each of the attacking bases I gave an attack bonus. They rolled pretty well:
- the first inflicting two hits (once the added bonuses of attacking downhill, lead unit and attacking from a non-river zone to a river zone had been included), the second no hits, the third a hit and the fourth two hits.

This resulted in the Gaul's lead unit being shattered, along with one other and a third being spent.

I made two important mistakes here. Firstly, I should have re-designated the Gaul's lead unit when it became spent, so the result should have been three units spent and one shattered. This I realised at the end of the turn.

My second mistake was that I only 'charged' the Romans one command for the attack bonus. This was a biggie as it enabled the group of legionaries in the next zone to also attack using attack bonuses (I did not realise this mistake until the end of the following turn!).

The legions from the Roman left-front zone attacked.

Due to my error in the number of commands required, each was given an attack bonus:
- the first base caused one hit, the second failed to hit, the third produced a hit and the last two hits!

By the photo, this resulted in the lead unit being shattered and another becoming spent—I evened up my mistakes a little here as I seem to have missed a hit!

Due to my incorrect accounting, the Romans had one command left, so moved their left-flank allied cavalry to the left of the line, attacked the Gaul right-flank cavalry (using their two move allocation) and inflicted a hit (eight required: +1 defender in river zone, -1 for attacker having moved).

The first game is all about making mistakes, isn't it? I had forgotten morale for the Gauls! Not a big problem as I rolled 3s and so had no effect.

Having realised two of my three mistakes, it was clearly time for another break! I rolled for the Gaul's second turn, a '4' giving them eight commands to use; next time.

With the Romans ascendant at this stage, it was time for some Gaul action to try to take some of this back (or at least manoeuvre for later action). They advanced their left-flank cavalry and moved the two bases of heavy warriors to follow them. Five commands used.

Time to counter-attack the Romans:
- a hit, a miss and a second hit (photos above and below)...
... followed by a second miss with the last of the allowable attacks. This left the Roman left-front zone with two spent units and the Roman's lead unit twice re-defined.

Time to incorrectly count commands in favour of the Gauls(!), allowing the centre zone to attack:
-adjudicated no hit, hit, no hit (although looking at the dice in the photos, I think it should have been three misses!).

My poor counting of commands continued, allowing the centre-left zone to attack the Roman allied cavalry:
- inflicting no hits!

A roll of just '2' for the Romans, but still nine commands, plus Caesar's two exemptions.

Attack!

Attack bonuses used for each one (I continued to under-'charged' at a command each); but only two were needed before the Gaulish centre non iam exstat!

A morale roll of three says that the other Gauls were not perturbed.

Send in the left!

Not such great rolls this time, even with the attack bonus (@ incorrect cost of one command), but sufficient to inflict four hits, one to each Gaul base, as each took it in turn to be the lead unit.

The last Roman command was used to give a base of veteran legionaries in the camp a double move to begin to protect the right flank.

I called time on the game at this stage with the Gauls severely beaten up and poised to make their historic about face and head back to their starting hill. It's not all over for them, but I had made sufficient mistakes(!) and, most importantly, had seen enough to be satisfied that I want to make something for myself of Lost Battles.

 

As I had expected, after I read the book back in July last year and checked out some of the games and descriptions on Here's no great matter, Parade Ground 20 mm and Ancient & Mediaeval Wargaming, the excellent blogs of Aaron, Tony and Keith respectively, I like the overall model/system of Lost Battles. Also as expected, I am not convinced about wanting to be constrained to zones, I don't really like commands (although this Lost Battles version is far preferable to me than other dice/pip-style movement systems), I'd like more detail in combat and to further eliminate the idea of 'units'.

I made copious notes of ideas as I played and am going to wholeheartedly take on Philip Sabin's imprimatur to adapt and to adjust:

The model comes into its own as a vehicle for user experimentation with different ideas and interpretations, including through tweaks to the system itself (p. 225).

It may seem precipitous to some, but I am ready to 'tweak' already!

When one has been wargaming as long as most of us who operate and read blogs, you know what you like, what you don't and have some idea of what you are looking for—even if not quite sure how to produce it. Added to that is the time imperative of being in the shorter, second 'half' of life!

Rather than 'ditch' zones altogether, I think I'll try something akin to Empire's grand tactical and tactical movement. This will have forces move by zone until they are one zone apart and then to scale-down movement to a slower rate. These will be at factors of a base move of 'X'. Initially I'll use my base width as X, hoping that this will scale naturally with different sized games. Foot will move 1BW, horse 2BW, charges at double move rate, uphill/river/swamp/marsh deduct 1/2BW. Other things may occur as I go along...

I plan to get rid of commands, to have simultaneous movement with each group (see later) able to move once in a turn—as the constraints of the presence of terrain, friends and enemies allow. This 'let the player move everything' is an aspect that I really liked in Impetus (amongst other rule sets that operate like this). I may need to introduce restrictions on changing 'orders' each turn, insisting that charges keep charging or such, but I strongly suspect that this will not be necessary, particularly with the scaling of movement to two levels.

I reckon that I'll keep the deployment aspect of Lost Battles (which I have not even used yet!), with each side drawing up a simple order of march, that will dictate the order of arrival (as I won't have commands to limit this). Movement in this part will then be per Lost Battles (since the forces will be beyond one zone apart, by definition).

I want to have forces move and to fight by groups appropriate for the scenario and nationality. I read Book 1 of Caesar's commentaries in detail (along with Holmes and Napoleon's descriptions/analysis) as I played through this part-game. It screams out to me that the main body of the Helvetii operated in one mass at Bibracte. The four front-line Roman legions did too. At Vosges, the armies were perhaps in three separate groups (centre, left, right). There is a habit for ancient wargames to begin with lines of troops and then to break into smaller and smaller sub-groups/actions as a battle/game goes on. This does not seem correct to me. My understanding of other battles/campaigns gives me the same impression (e.g. Alexander's battles, Punic war battles). The use of zones in Lost Battles gets around this 'problem'. I am keen to do the same, but with more freedom of movement appropriate to a miniature wargames tabletop (as first introduced by von Reisswitz in Kriegsspiel).

For each battle/scenario there will be some kind of mandated requirement for the minimum group size. Troops will move and fight in these groups. At Bibracte, the entire Gaul and Roman front line will be single groups. I plan to use the combat factors (and probably most of the modifiers) from Lost Battles, rolling for each base, but to have 'hits' accumulate on the group. Impacts will be based on hits per base with impacts on fighting ability beginning at half the number of hits to bases, a group becoming spent at one hit per base and shattered at two. (At this stage I do not want to introduce another level at 3/4, but we'll see).

As I am going to discard the zones once forces are within a zone of one another, I'll have separate missile and hand-to-hand combat. These will use the same 'to hit' factors (and probably modifiers), at least in the first instance. Range for javelin/pilum will be 50 m (a bit long, but works with the scale of the zones), while 150 m for bow and sling. I am hoping and expecting that the combination of scaled-down movement, terrain, charges and the like will enable a key difference between Bibracte and Vosges to 'fall out'. That is, the failure of the Gauls to come to grips with the Roman line at the former, compared with their hitting the line before the Romans could throw their pila in the latter.

Using the above, the rules for morale should largely work as they are, except I'm thinking that I'll test as a group, not as a base and may add in a few other modifiers. We'll see. I'll keep the impact of commanders as they are, apart from command exemptions.

Playing solo will enable me to 'make it up as I go along' and even include elements of the narrative version of Kriegsspiel to make an umpires judgement on things (adding in rules later if necessary). I am hoping and expecting that this dynamic and iterative process will enable me to refine and to clarify my adaptations to a level that I could explain them to another person, if required.

I'll use Bibracte once or even twice more as the testing ground of ideas. Assuming that my ideas survive this level of 'contact with the enemy', I'll apply my adapted Lost Battles to other actions of the first year of Caesar's Gallic campaign, intending to begin with the skirmishes with the tribes of the Alps (which is outside the intended size for Lost Battles), proceed to the first attack on the Helvetii when crossing the Saône, possibly to yet another go at Bibracte and then to the Vosges/defeat of Ariovistus. These will keep me going for quite some time! The succeeding years of the campaign and the civil war will beckon after that...

Before I do any of that though, I want to apply at least some base colours to the Gauls and perhaps add in a few 'accessories' so as to improve the look of my next attempt.

References

Caesar, GJ (2012) Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul. Military History From Primary Sources Ed. B Carruthers. Pen & Sword Military (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd), Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England. 256 pp.

Sabin, PAG (2013) Lost Battles Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World. First Published 2007. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. 298 pp.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Lost Battles: Setting up Bibracte

I had not planned to have a go with "Lost Battles" yet. I was spurred to it by an email discussion with e-friends about rules for ancients. "I'm keen to try Lost Battles," I said, "but won't get to them for a while yet."

But why not?

I don't have to wait until I have figures painted to do a solo game. While it will not look as good, I can still have an enjoyable game and start to get to know the model in some detail.

So, much of the weekend was spent preparing and undercoating most of my Celt/Gaul warriors on foot so that I could field the required forces for the scenario in the book (and a few more besides). I already had a few part-painted cavalry figures to use for both sides and enough painted/part-painted figures for the Romans.

Overview of the table from the Roman side. I copied the rules section of the book to make a separate rules booklet and also have the Strategos II booklet from the Society of Ancients for the same purpose.

Today I had an unexpected day off, so took the opportunity to clear the table—re-arranging the now 2 470 figures in my active painting queue (which includes the Celt/Gauls), giving the place a spruce up and then setting up the terrain.

The first thing that struck me (and surprised me) is how large the required area is. One of the many clever and elegant aspects of Lost Battles is that they are self-scaling. Using my figures based on their large, 120 mm-wide bases (from Impetus), each zone of 1 000 m  x 1 000 m ends up being 500 mm x 500 mm on the table, giving a total area of 2.5 m x 2 m (width x depth) for the game to encompass the battle's 5 km x 4 km deep area.

In some respects, having the Celt/Gauls only undercoated seems a bit fitting as they appear to the Romans as a big mass of faceless warriors, bringing back distant memories of Brennus. One can spin a story to fit anything...!

To the Romans the Helvetii/Boii/Tulingi force appears as a dark mass of faces scary barbarians.

While to the Celt/Gauls, the Romans are strangely urbane!

For this first go at the rules and scenario, I have set up the armies as Philip Sabin has them in the map in the book. That is, after deployment has been completed by both sides (except for three Roman legionary 'units'). I plan to include deployment, which is a particular strength of Lost Battles, I reckon, in a future re-run.

All going well I'll begin the game/simulation tomorrow afternoon/evening.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Joy of 2 for World War Two

After our back to the future playtest of the Wargames Research Group 1925–1950 rules, Julian came to the conclusion that he was happy with the rules, but not the scale. While I might be prepared to 'suspend disbelief' regarding the depth a vehicle occupies, he could not have a great big 1/72 Tiger (for example) and assume that it only occupied a smidgen of it's size. The answer, he thought; 2 mm.

Using the natural scale of the figures (1:1 000, rounding up) means that the ground scale becomes 1 mm = 1 m, what you see is what you get and large games can be staged over a reasonable area.

He proceeded to purchase some 2 mm figures for the Second World War from Irregular Miniatures (already knowing the scale since he has plenty of 2 mm forces for other periods), applied paint, made some buildings and then, on Sunday just gone, staged a second playtest. Stephen came up from Perth to join Julian and me for the game.

Julian designed a fictitious scenario a few days after D-Day, on a roughly 1 m x 2 m table with some really good looking bocage (using strips of kitchen scourers) and some buildings that he has scratch-built from milliput. I took the defending Germans, Stephen the attacking Americans.

View along the table from the American end. Green strips are bocage, large hill at the German end of the table, village behind.

View from the German end. Troops laid out but not deployed. Julian's excellent buildings in the foreground. He has applied his master building for 1/72 to 2mm.

Americans advancing down the road and across country. My plan, if I had any, was to conduct a 'rolling defense', with each line of hidden vehicles/troops retiring to the one behind (or further). I 'unveiled' the first line of a Jagdpanzer (right foreground) and Panzer IV (left foreground), each supported by an infantry.

German tanks open up on the lead Sherman, knocking it out! We played all of the American tanks as Shermans (which these lead ones here are).

The Americans had laid down a smoke screen/barrage, which fortuitously, for me, over-shot the first line of German defenders. This did not last long as their tanks fired on the now visible Jagdpanzer and Panzer IV, taking out the former, but missing the latter.

Scratch one Jagdpanzer.

According to plan, the Panzer IV and infantry that had accompanied the Jagdpanzer now retired towards the next line: A Tiger. The other infantry remaining in place for now as observers. The Tiger opened up on the lead tank, but missed.

Not so the German artillery which had been called in to fire a little in advance of the initial American position and successfully destroyed another Sherman, second last in the column.

The lead Sherman diverted from the road to attack the retreating panzer grenadiers, but good fortune continued to be with the Germans and they escaped unharmed.

To add insult to (non) injury, the infantry fired their panzerfaust, and hit and knocked out their assailant!

Surviving the American retaliatory fire, the Tiger opened up again...

Sherman no. four of six knocked out.


At this point, Julian remembered that we'd forgotten morale tests. The result for the American company of Shermans meant a retirement to cover away from the enemy. The German infantry that had been fired on by the tank but survived did a similar thing.

We had to end it there. Originally when we'd planned the game we expected to go into the evening, but I found out later that I was working on Monday with an early start, so we were limited to the few hours. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful time with marvellous hospitality from Julian and family, an enjoyable first outing with his twos and plenty of banter and general chatting/catching up. A huge thank you to our wonderful hosts!

Julian is now 'full steam ahead' to paint more vehicles and figures and to build more of his marvellous buildings and other terrain pieces.