Sunday 29 September 2019

Battle of Trebia - 218 BC

On Sunday I introduced Posties Rejects to the excellent To the Strongest rules with a refight of the Battle of Trebia. This was initially intended to be a solo game but the Order of Battle grew and grew until I had to admit this just wasn't possible to play alone. Instead, I decided to run the game at Reject HQ (the shed-o-war) as it would probably take a couple of players per side to manage the 'workload' of such large commands. None of those taking part had played these rules before so I would umpire the game, manage rules questions and keep track of lost units and when commands became demoralised etc. 

The Battle of the Trebia was the first major battle of the Second Punic War. Having crossed the Alps with his army, Hannibal was eager to strike at the Romans to consolidate he position and help convince local Galic tribes to join him. There had been an earlier, smaller, clash between the two sides over a month earlier when Hannibal had attacked and nearly killed Consul Publius Cornelius Scipio in what became known as the Battle of Ticinus (which I solo played a couple of times earlier this year). Now the second consul, Tiberius Sempronius Longus, has marched his army up Italy from the south and joined forces with Scipio. Hannibal is massively outnumbered, but confident he can goad the Romans into attacking him on the ground of his own choosing. 

Both sides had been sending out cavalry to probe the enemy and scout the surrounding land and a few days earlier some of those scouts had clashed. The fight had developed and more troops were being pulled into the fight but Hannibal was wise enough to see the danger in being drawn into a full-scale battle he could not control. Instead, he pulled back his troops in good order and retreated to the relative safety of the camp. Sempronius was ecstatic. As far as he was concerned he'd just beaten the Carthaginian General and now he was spoiling for an all-out decisive battle. Hannibals spies relayed this information and the crafty Carthaginian commander saw an opportunity. Over the next few days, the Numidian cavalry probed the Roman defences, making a nuisance of themselves with minimum casualties. Sempronius was angry and frustrated so when a much more concerted raid was launched at his camp early one morning he decided to seize the initiative and attack with his whole army. 

Hannibal had deliberately launched this feint attack at first light before the Romans had breakfasted (his own troops had been told to eat early, so they fought on full stomachs) confident that the impetuous consul Sempronius would take the bait and chase the Numidians back across the icy cold Trebia. The Consul responded just as Hannibal had hoped and having seen off the Numidians easily had roused his whole army, not even allow them to eat breakfast before marching after the fleeing light cavalry and fording the river. The river would have been icy cold when the Romans crossed and the ground immediately around it would have been boggy difficult going. It's likely this would have weakened the cohesion of the otherwise impeccable roman lines. Finally, they were all across the river but it took some time for the units to form up some distance from the Carthaginian invaders who were still issuing from their camp and getting into position. This was exactly what Hannibal wanted. He knew that by the time the Romans had finished getting into position, they would be soaking wet, very cold and very hungry. Hannibal also had a surprise for the Romans, which if it worked, would guarantee victory for the eldest son of Hasdrubal.

According to Polybius, the plan was set in motion the night before the Battle. Hannibal had called his younger Brother Mago, to his tent. He asked him to pick 100 of his best cavalrymen and 100 of his best infantry and assemble them in the centre of the camp. Here Hannibal roused them with glowing oratory and sent them away to pick their own squads of 9 men each for a special detail. Mago was ordered to take this small force of just 2000 and hide overnight in the long grass of a small marshy valley beside the planned battlefield, and at the right time launch an ambush on the rear of the Roman army. As Sempronius marched his cold and hungry legionaries forward towards Hannibal's line he had no idea how comprehensively he had been played, and the scale of the disaster that was about to befall his army.

The Game Setup
Now if the players knew they were refighting Trebia then the Roman players would naturally deploy in the full knowledge that there is a Carthaginian ambush force hiding on their left flank. I decided the best way to replicate the circumstances of the battle was to be a Big Fat Liar! I took advantage of the fact that none of my players would be familiar enough with the rules to know I was fibbing when I said their forces were evenly matched, and not familiar enough with the history of the period to recognise the battle I was recreating. So I repeatedly told them in the days leading up to the game that this was a 'fictional setup' of a simple battle designed to enable the player to learn the rules.

Once the players for each side were determined I took aside each 'team' for a briefing, outlining special rules for their forces and explaining the troop types in their armies It was at this point that I told the Carthaginian players that we were refighting Trebia, that they were in fact outnumbered by a significant margin, but that they also had an ambush force hidden on the table. I told them where the force was hidden and then left the rest to them. It would be up to the player controlling Mago to decide when to launch the surprise attack and where to aim it.

Order of Battle
Romans  C/O Consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus  (267 Points)
1st Command - Sempronius    Mounted, Detached, Senior 
   2x Equites Romani           Cavalry, Javelin
   Equites Extraordinarii          Cavalry, Javelin, Veteran
   Italian Allied Infantry          Javelinmen
   Gallic allied infantry          Warriors, deep, hero
2nd Command - General         Mounted, Detached
   3x Velites                          Light Infantry, Javelin
   4x Hastati/Principes          Legionaries, Special
   3x Triarii                          Hoplites, Veteran, Small
3rd Command - General          Mounted, Detached
   3x Velites                           Light Infantry, Javelin
   4x Hastati/Principes           Legionaries, Special
   3x Triarii                           Hoplites, Veteran, Small
4th Command - General          Mounted, Detached
   2x Equites Latini                  Cavalry, Javelin
   2x Allied Light Cavalry   Light Cavalry, Javelin
   Italian Allied Infantry          Javelinmen

Carthaginians  C/O Hannibal Barca (234 Points)
1st Command - Hannibal  Great Leader, senior, mounted, heroic, detached and brilliant 
   2x Punic Cavalry                 Cavalry, Javelin
   2x Numidian Light Cavalry Light Cavalry, Javelin 
   African Elephants          African Elephants, Deep
   African Skirmishers         Light Infantry, Javelin, Raw
   Balaeric Slingers                 Light infantry sling, Veteran
2nd Command - General        Mounted, Detached
   2x African Spearmen         Spearmen, Veteran
   2x Italian Allies                 Javelinmen
   2x Iberian Scutarii         Javelinmen, Shock Weapon, Veteran
   3x Gauls                         Warriors, hero, deep, (two of the three are Veteran)
3rd Command - General         Mounted, Detached
   Punic Cavalry                 Cavalry, Javelin
   2x Numidian Light Cavalry  Light Cavalry, Javelin
   African Elephants            African Elephants, Deep
   African Skirmishers         Light Infantry, Javelin, Raw
   Balaeric Slingers              Light infantry sling, Veteran
4th Command - Mago             Mounted, Detached, Senior, Brilliant 
   Punic Cavalry                 Cavalry, Javelin, Veteran
   2x African Spearmen         Spearmen, Veteran

My setup map planned out before the game. 

The Action
Unlike my normal battle reports the following pictures don't capture all the action. I was so busy with umpiring and running the game - and all the careful admin that went with it - that I didn't have time for more than a handful of quick pictures. If we play these rules again (and I hope the guys will want to) then it will get easier as they become increasingly familiar with the rules.

The setup before I let the commanders into the shed-o-war - Romans on the right, Carthaginians on the left. 

The Roman lines. They do look rather splendid, well organised and formidable. 

The Carthaginian commanders. Postie was Hannibal while Surjit was Mago. Here we are about the second turn into the game with the Romans advancing rapidly with the first light infantry skirmishes taking place. 

The lines are drawing ever closer together and its probably time for the Velites (who have run out javelins) to get out of the way. The Carthaginians have lost both their elephant units but not without causing to chaos first!

Things still look pretty well organised...that's not going to last!

An aerial view showing the steady and disciplined advance of the Romans

And another view looking towards the Carthaginian camp.

Postie having to 'fink ard! Surjit gets more excited as his ambush on the Roman flank draws near.

Everyone that took part had a lot to learn as none of them had played To the Strongest before. 

Now the real action starts. Both main lines of infantry are engaged closely, exchanging javelins and getting into melee with each other....and on the right you can just about see the arrival of Mago's ambush force on the Roman flank. 

Unfortunately, the next two turns were so busy with action I didn't take any more pictures, I didn't even get a shot of the final positions! Check out Ray's blog later this week for his write up and hopefully better and more comprehensive pictures. So what happened... well both sides got stuck in! All the Roman Hastatii/Principe units had to perform a line swap but most of their shock weapon attacks were ineffective. However, in the end, they did nibble away at the Carthaginian lines and despite serious losses on the Roman side, they wore down the invaders.

By the end of the 7th Turn the Carthaginians had reached the breaking point and despite rolling up the Roman flank with Mago's attack they were unable to break the Roman war machine.

I hope everyone that took part had a good time and in the end, the Roman win was by a small margin, with only four victory medals remaining. That being said they lost several medals down to units routing after another unit was destroyed. Given the mechanism for rout testing, I was surprised to see this happen, but it did make for a more nail-biting finish to the game.

Umpiring four newbies with such large armies was hard work, and that's no disrespect to the guys, they did very well considering how much they had to learn in a short time. I think I got through relatively unscathed although I think I may have made one questionable rules decision regarding light troops. I couldn't find the answer I needed in the rulebook but I will go hunting for it now the game is over. In the end, it didn't change the outcome of the battle so I'm chalking it up to the vagaries of war.

UPDATE - Ray has now posted his batrep here. well worth a read, especially as he has more pictures towards the end of the game. 

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Falling back in love with Print Magazines

The sound of the letterbox flapping and that satisfying plop as the packet lands on your doormat evokes a strange emotional reaction in me. I get childishly excited because a parcel delivery usually means 'goodies' in the form of books, models or other hobby related items. But the sound of a magazine being delivered is somehow unique and I had forgotten how much I missed it. I switched to digital subscriptions a few years ago, mainly because it was the cheaper option, I tended to hoard old issues and didn't really have anywhere to store them. However I soon discovered that I spend so much time online - reading blogs, updating social media and all the other distractions the Internet offers - that reading my digital magazines often got overlooked. In short, I got distracted by clickbait and ended up missing the important stuff!

Digital information, especially when presented on a screen, tends to get skimmed across more quickly (it's not called 'surfing' for nothing). That's not necessarily a criticism of the Internet but a natural evolution of utility that lends itself to fast information presented in small parcels. I doubt if I'm alone when I say that I am more inclined to read something in-depth when it is in a printed format. Don't get me wrong, I still think digital magazines are a great way to access hobby content but I was increasingly aware that I felt wistfully nostalgic about 'the good old days' when I bought paper magazines. So earlier this year I changed my subscriptions back to physical copies and have been enjoying the arrival of my printed magazines ever since... along with that satisfying plop when they land on the doormat.

I have a confession to make - I rarely read a magazine cover to cover. Not every article tickles my interest and I usually spend as much time absorbed in the adverts of new products as I do reading the features. But going back to physical magazines has definitely increased the amount I am reading compared to when I had digital copies. I have found myself dipping into their pages more often, and having a physical copy lying around not only reminds me to read it but it also successfully guilt's me into engaging with something I have spent good money on. Put the tablet down Lee it's saying, stop scrolling and pick me up!


As for the storage of back issues, I still haven't got space to keep more than a few months worth of magazines. However, I can't bring myself to throw them in the bin (sacrilege!) so what to do with them? If I find a particular article or scenario interesting I'll scan it so I can keep a copy and then I send the magazine on to a second life. In the past, I have given them to fellow gamers but most of my circle of friends already have their own copies filling shelves and storage boxes. My favoured method of disposal now is to donate my magazines to people or places that wouldn't normally buy them. I'll deposit a few copies in the waiting room at the doctor's surgery, at the dentist or the hospital and in the staff lunchroom at work. You never know, some bored patient or college may pick up a copy which could spark a new interest in the hobby.  I have even occasionally left a copy on the train, with the nebulous hope that some weary commuter would find it more interesting than a copy of the Evening Standard or the Metro.

My inspiration for this method of disposal comes from an experience I had at the hospital many years ago when I faced a very long wait in the Accident and Emergency department with a sick child and nothing to read. I poked desperately through a pile of awful magazines (all about fashion and celebrities... ugh!) hoping to find something of interest, and to my delight came across a copy of a military history magazine called After the Battle. Not only was it very interesting, helping to relieve the boredom, but I enjoyed it so much I ended up subscribing. So maybe leaving your used wargaming magazines will not only help some desperate individual pass the time it may even bring someone into the hobby (or indeed, back into the hobby).  Stranger things have happened. 

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Another Autumn Skirmish

Sunday morning and I could be found heading south of the river towards Sidcup, and that could only mean Skirmish. This is the Autumn iteration of the twice-yearly 'Toy Soldier Show' held in Sidcup Grammer school. It's not a big event, with less than a dozen display games and traders, but I always seem to come away from this event with something. As usual, I took my camera and shot a load of pictures but to be honest I spend more time chatting to friends than I actually do shopping. This time I was making a flying visit as I had the family in tow and we were heading out for the day. I still managed to take a few pictures.

Colonel Bills - Postie looking to spend more money....and a view of Rays posterior sticking out from behind another customer.  

The Trader Hall has been half-empty for the last three or four shows. I just hope it's not a trend as this could kill off what is otherwise an enjoyable little show.  

A display of Sudan War uniforms and equipment. This show usually has a 'theme' with an interesting display of period items and adds another interesting angle to this diverse little event. 

Some of the memorabilia can be quite rare and not often seen outside a museum

Old Guard Wargames Club - Playing Peter Pigs Spanish civil war rules (Ideology & bayonet)

Skirmish Wargames 

Painting and Modeling section. Always interesting for a chat and exchange of ideas

Milton Hundred Wargaming Club running a Bolt Action game - Operation Sealion: Conflict in Kent 

The Bring and Buy Stand

The Privateers of London - The Battle of the Yellow Sea - 1/3000 Scale Pre Dreadnought naval game

And of course some obligatory T-Shirt purchases from Art of War.

The show did seem a little smaller this time. There were a couple of noticeable absences in the Game Hall and as previously mentioned the Trade hall has been a little underwhelming for a while. I still enjoy this event though as I get to meet a lot of friends here and spend more time chatting than I do viewing games and shopping.

I do feel that small shows like this need to be supported as they are the lifeblood of small clubs and provide an easily accessible route for 'local' gamers to engage with clubs and traders. I understand that some traders just can't continue to attend when events get too small, but I hope that this isn't a downward trend for this event. 

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Battle of Gibbet Hill - War of the Roses 1461

Over the summer I have missed a couple of games at Reject HQ but this Sunday I was able to join my fellow outcasts for a game in the shed-o-war. This time Postie had his War of the Roses figures out and we prepared ourselves for a very bloody clash of arms.

The Setup
The order of battle for this game was loosely based on the Battle of Towton (known as the Bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil). The game opened with each commander moving the various commands and redeploying their troops. Each command rolls to see how far onto the table it can deploy and once both have moved their troops the commanders roll for initiative. 

Order of Battle
c/o EdwardIV (Brilliant) 15" +4
   1 -  Men at Arms (Foot)
   2 - Retinue Bill
   3 - Retinue Archers
   4 - Shire Archers
   5 - Mounted
   6 - Light Gun +4 Crew
2nd in command - Earl of Warwick (Plodding) 9" +2
   7 - Men at Arms (Foot)
   8 - Retinue Archers
   9 - Shire Bill
   10 - German Pikemen
   11 - German Handgunners
3rd in command - Duke of Norfolk (Efficient) 12" +3
   12 -  Men at Arms (foot)
   13 -  Retinue Bill
   14 - Shire Bill
   15 - Shire Archers
   16 - Peasants

c/o Duke of Somerset (Efficient) 12" +3
   1 - Men at Arms
   2 - Retinue Bill
   3 - Retinue Archers
   4 - Shire Archers
   5 - Mounted
   6 - Light Gun +4 Crew
2nd in command - Earl of Northumberland (Efficient) 12" +3
   7 - Men at Arms
   8 - Retinue Bill
   9 - Retinue Archers
   10 - Shire Bill
   11 - French Crossbowmen
3rd in command - Sir Andrew Trollope (Brilliant) 15" +4
   12 - Men at Arms
   13 - Shire Bill
   14 - Shire Archers
   15 - Welsh Spearmen
   16 - Peasants

The Action
The Initial setup - The Yorkist plan was to hold the nearest hill and centre and attack on our right flank, but after one turn of archery fire, we changed the plan. Standing still as glorified archery butts just wasn't going to work. 

Edwards Standard Bearer takes up a prominent position in the centre of our line. The morale bonus received from this guy was needed several times during the game. 

The advance begins as arrows darken the sky

The Yorkist line advances off the hills. As usual, Surj got his units in a jumble but the line remained fairly ordered for the first half of the battle. 

A fine figure of a man.... Payback for some less than flattering pictures of me over the years! Lol

Next doors cat Sid is a regular visitor to the shed of war. He looks a little bemused. 

Archery in this period is murderous and both sides lost more men to arrows in the early part of the game.  Surj and I quickly changed our plan after being on the receiving end of the first volleys. 

Postie decides to move the shepherd and his flock out of the way while Surj advances his foot troops. 

The master tactician at work.

The local farmers seem oblivious to the battle taking place in their fields. 

Meanwhile, the shepherd gets the flock outta here...

Our archers make short work of Lancastrian Billmen and Men-at-Arms in the centre, but the enemy also has two full-strength archer units poised to return the favour. 

The Lancastrian commander doesn't look too pleased with the situation. 

My troops under the Duke of Norfolk advance in good order towards the Lancastrian line. My archery was particularly effective and I moved up with relatively few casualties compared to Surj's troops on my right. 

Creeping towards each other the casualties mount.

Ray moves his men-at-arms forwards, poised to charge the Lancastrian lines. Meanwhile, Surj moves his mounted troops into a position to counter-charge...or so he thinks. 

My troops, under the Duke of Norfolk. Looking good despite all the sharp pointy death raining from above. 

Rays Men at Arms charge our unit of french crossbowmen (just right of centre in this picture). The Shirmish unit fails its morale and flees off the table! The Charging Men-at-arms are able to continue their charge and hit the next Yorkist unit which had been behind the Crossbowmen. 

The unfortunate result of this action is that the Lancastrian men-at-arms are now no longer in front of our mounted troops and cannot be counter-charged. Surj was understandably not happy at this point! 

Over on our right flank another unit, this time archers has also been charged by the Yorkists. They put up a stiff fight but still lose by a narrow margin and are driven off the battlefield. 

Things are hotting up now as foot units finally meet. Melee is as deadly as being shot at by archers but at least we'll have a chance to deal some damage to the enemy at the same time. 

With our archer's gon on the right flank, our foot units now line up for the next turn and more melee. 

Casualties are incredibly high and units that have fought hand-to-hand are severely depleted after a single melee. 

Surj goes toe-to-toe with Rays lancastrians. 

And in the centre, the infamous 'Pink Helmet' narrowly escapes destruction. 

The swine. Yorkist Retinue Buillmen see off one of our Shire Bill units and then charge into their rear as they flee. Ouch. 

Payback, our Pikemen make short work of Yorkist billmen. 

Meanwhile on my flank I get stuck in and have better luck with the dice than I am accustomed to.  I push back the Yorkists and press my advantage with the only archer unit still unscathed on the battlefield. 
My troops push forwards but the centre of the battlefield is eerily quiet as many units on both sides have been destroyed. It was at this point that Stuart announced that both sides had reached their breaking point, having lost six units. The victory was given to the Yorkists as we had destroyed seven enemy units by the end of the last turn. 

We all really enjoyed this battle, despite the high casualties. I think myself and Surjit felt a 'Minor Victory' was a little unfair because it felt that we had dominated the action all game. In the end, though, casualties count and both armies had been badly mauled by archery and melee. 

Surj and I had to change our plan early in the game. Its been a long time since any of us have played this period or these rules so it was quite a shock when we had the first turn of archery fire. It was immediately apparent that we couldn't sit back and wait for the Yorkists to attack, we had to take the fight to them. Fortunately our dice rolling was above-par all game and we won every turn of initiative which gave us a big advantage because we could fire first. Had the game gone another tunr its hard to say how things would have turned out. I was poised to melee with more Yorkists on my flank but in the centre Ray had two archer units poised to rain some hurt on my men.