Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I'm Gonna Get Medieval...

I've kicked around the idea of Medieval wargaming for a long time, but never really saw the vision all the way through. Of course, there's no guarantee that I will do that now and I have a lot of irons in the fire already. I'm just in the mood to kick the idea around again.

There are always two main considerations when I think about gaming a period: rules and figures. For Medieval wargaming, I've spent plenty of time fiddling around with both.


A long while back, I wrote a late Medieval variant for the Pig Wars Dark Age skirmish rules. They are available in the Pig Wars LMV folder in the Files section of the Pig Warriors Yahoo! group. Browsing them recently, I recall how much I liked Pig Wars and I still like some of the ideas I had for expanding them to this era. These aren't seriously in contention, though. I think I've only played them myself a couple times using Kevin Smyth's figures. My own figures are partially done and have been so since 2005, I think.

My immediate impulse for Medieval wargaming has come after browsing through a set of rules from 1977 called Gen D'Armes written by NHMGS' own Dick Larsen along with Warren Lee (of whom I know nothing) who formed a company called Tin Heroes Productions. I found my copy about five years ago at Dragonflight. I really didn't think about them much at the time, being more interested in them because they were authored by someone I knew. Looking through them now, I like a lot of the ideas and am leaning heavily in their favor.

Another possible contender is Neil Thomas' Ancient & Medieval Wargaming. These rules are a curiosity. Most miniature gamers I know around here have never heard of them or of Neil Thomas. My friend Rick mentioned them to me once some years ago and I had to confess my own ignorance. However, the rules have something of a cult following and a Yahoo! group of their own, AMWGroup. The rules were published in 2007 and are one of a few rules books written by Thomas. They're pretty simple and use mechanics you'd likely be very familiar with from other systems; they're rather Featherstonian in style. The rules are pretty straightforward; much of the book being a lot of "blah blah blah." (I don't mean that to be insulting, I write "blah blah blah" reflexively—as you can tell from this post.) If you boil down to just the rules, especially if it's just the Medieval section, it's probably a few pages and some charts.

Now, the real kicker about Ancient & Medieval Wargaming is that it's out of print and the available used copies are selling for prices that eclipse the GDP of some small countries. That's just crazy. I got a Kindle version for $15.49 on Amazon.com, although the tables are much distorted. It's a problem with ePub books. These are simple tables, though, so reconstructing them wouldn't prove to be too difficult.

There are ever so many more sets of Medieval rules that are just out of contention because the systems are too elaborate. I want something that's quick to play, doesn't require thousands or even hundreds of figures, and makes the most of the figures used. (I just don't get the appeal of rules that require you to have big units with 20-40 figures, but would play just the same if your units were blocks of wood.)

At this point is comes down to one of two: Gen D'Armes or Ancient & Medieval Wargaming.

Units in Ancient & Medieval Wargaming always comprise four stands. The number of figures per stand varies depending on the unit type, but they are solely representative. The stand is what counts. This is true as well with Gen D'Armes, which uses two-figure stands for foot and single-figure stands for mounted. However, unit sizes in Gen D'Armes can vary from a maximum of 16 stands (32 figures) down to one stand (1-2 figures).

In both sets of rules, stands are removed after a specific number of hits are taken. In Ancient & Medieval Wargaming, the number of hits is always four. In Gen D'Armes, the number of hits varies from two (peasants) to six (extra heavy foot, i.e., dismounted knights).

Combat in Ancient & Medieval Wargaming uses a consistent mechanism of a number of D6 per base, which varies by unit type. Gen D'Armes uses multiple D6 for shooting (one per stand), but uses melee values per stand for combat that are summed for each unit, multiplied by the result of an average die, and compared to get a result.

Each has a few other bells and whistles. Gen D'Armes has exploding hand cannons—and for exciting game play, you can't beat that with stick. I also have a better feel that Gen D'Armes can fill the late Medieval/early Renaissance gap better than Ancient & Medieval Wargaming. Gen D'Armes has rules for the arquebus (i.e., non-exploding hand cannons) and would probably do well for small actions in the beginning part of the Italian Wars.

Gen D'Armes is also less formalized. As I mentioned, Ancient & Medieval Wargaming uses four stands per unit (except artillery, which is a single stand). Gen D'Armes has a points list for play balance, but there are no set army lists. You're allowed to figure those out on your own by doing things like reading.

I think it's pretty clear which direction I'm going for rules.


There is no debate here. I'll use Old Glory. I already have a stock of unpainted lead. I have some figures started. I have some figures that are actually painted. Old Glory makes a wide range of medieval types and they're cheap—especially if you're in the Old Glory Army.

Next Steps

The question now is "whither the project" or "wither the project." I have the rules. I have the figures. It's just a matter of painting and mounting, which I can do at a steady pace until I've got something to game with. I will not attempt painting museum pieces. These are Old Glory, after all.

Friday, August 16, 2013


I spent the last weekend spottily attending the Dragonflight 2013 convention in Bellevue, WA. I've been a few times before, mostly to check out the miniatures scene, which is minimal. Dragonflight is primarily a boardgame and RPG convention. The latter just doesn't draw me in, but I am an aficionado of boardgames in general and of hex 'n' counter wargames in particular. So, early this year I pre-registered for Dragonflight and set myself to go and focus on the wargames opportunities.

I, Infidel

My first game (on Friday) was the Ascalon scenario from GMT's Infidel. This is the second game in GMT's Men of Iron series. I have the first game in the series, which I quite like. The game sequence uses a variable bound approach where a player activates a command and, after completing movement and combat for that command, can go on to activate another command and so on as long as they remain successful. I've resisted purchasing Infidel, but now that I've played it, I'm re-thinking that resistance. I have to admit up front that I played the Fatimids and got completely slaughtered by my opponent, Ken Cassidy. Ken played the crusaders and his knights just ate my lunch. Obviously I made mistakes, but in my own defense I have to state that Ken got five activations in a row right at the start. At several other points he got multiple consecutive activations, while I typically got only my free activation after Ken, rarely, lost an new activation attempt. Nevertheless, I thought it was a good game and the Men of Iron system plays very well and fluidly--even when you're just sitting there watching Godfrey de Bouillon mercilessly slaughter your elite Mamelukes.

Rob Bottos from Vancouver ran the Men of Iron event, which featured other players tackling the Bannockburn scenario from the original 2005 release Men of Iron. There was a possibility of playing a playtest version of the upcoming Blood & Roses. I've been a dilettante student of the Wars of the Roses since reading my father's copy of Winston Churchill's The Birth of Britain way, way back when. Instead, we played the Infidel scenario. I need to trouble Ralph Shelton, who helped run the Men of Iron event and was the producer for Infidel, for a Blood & Roses playtest opportunity. The game is scheduled for release in 2014 and I'm eager to give it a shot before then.

Men who shop

The rest of Friday was spent connecting with gamers and browsing the dealers. Since wargaming is a minority presence at Dragonflight, most of the wares brought by the vendors for sale were Eurogames, RPGs, and such. In my wanderings, however, I ran across the Greenlake Games booth and discovered IRONDIE.

These are very nice metal dice from Italy (apparently the designer does the metalwork for Armani belt buckles). There is a game system built around them, which looks worthy of exploration. I was attracted to them because of their heft. Being made of iron, a fistful of these are as heavy as a sack of nickels and they make a deeply satisfying thunk when they land in the dice box. I bought several of one type (the "smasher") in all colors. I also bought a couple of iron D10. (I used the bronze D10 in the Infidel game, not that it helped.)

Saturday, The War that Wasn't

I connected with Jeff Newell on Friday and arranged to play Lock 'n' Load Games' World at War series on Saturday. I ran across this series a few years back and it became an instant favorite. I used to play SPI's MechWar '77 back in the day (i.e., the 1970s) and this is an elegant upgrade to the Cold War hypothetical wargame. The game system is very playable and smooth.

We played two scenarios with me as the Commies both times. Jeff, being a former Army tanker, has an aversion to playing Ivan, which I was happy to indulge. Russian armor dies off like flies, but, like flies, there just seems to be a lot. It's a bit heady to set up a game with stacks of armor against a few platoons of Abrams tanks--even if by the end of turn 2 there are many fewer stacks of Russian armor and the Abrams are still there ready to knock you silly again on turn 3.

The first game was a small five-turn scenario from, I think, the World at War Compendium. It turned out to be a pretty tight game, which I might have won if I hadn't stuck my chin out by advancing my T-62s into a victory hex (one of three hamlets that the NATO player had to hold) while an Abrams had a bead on it.

Game two was scenario 1 from Eisenbach Gap, the first game in the series. I've played this before with disastrous results and I was eager to see if I could do better. I did, even though I didn't win. I was able to use my smoke and artillery to better effect and managed to take the larger of the two towns required for victory, knocking out a good bit of Team Yankee as I did. However, Jeff retained a nice kill-stack in the remaining town that I couldn't get to. The game board was littered with wrecks from both sides. Given the high death rate of the T-72, I call the result a morale victory.

I already had three of the games in the series (Eisenbach Gap, Blood and Bridges, The Untold Stories), but I was so inspired after Saturday's games that I ordered another three (Death of the 1st Panzer, Paris is Burning, World at War Compendium), two of which have already arrived in the mail (quick service!). I have a lot of counters to trim...

Gadgets and Gamers

One big advantage to attending Dragonflight was connecting with area gamers. Being a miniatures gamer, I'm not plugged into the board gaming community. There is less crossover than I would have thought.

I was able to get information about other events held in the Pacific Northwest that focus more on hex 'n' counter wargames. Rob Bottos runs Bottoscon in Vancouver, BC (Surrey, actually) in November. It's been going on for seven years and pulls in a lot of people. Jeff Newell runs Game ON! in Issaquah, WA in February. Game ON! features a lot of World at War play. I joined the Bottoscon Yahoo! group and am hoping to get connected with a regular, i.e., weekly or bi-weekly, gaming opportunity. I have a lot of games that need playing.

The hard-core gamers use large tweezers to manipulate their counter stacks. It looks pretty geeky, but when you've got stacks of counters in close proximity, it's pretty easy for fat-fingered gamers to knock everything asunder while attempting to move their pieces. The tweezers help. I haven't succumbed to lure of big tweezers yet, but Jeff Newell pulled out a gadget that got my attention. Behold the wonderous vacuum pen:

Using this wee suction device, you can easily pick up counters amidst the densest stack of cardboard heroes. I was so impressed, I whipped out my iPhone, searched the interwebs for a vacuum pen, found one on Amazon.com for $5.99 and ordered two. They arrived in the mail on Wednesday. O brave new world that has such technology in't!

I've also ordered more counter trays from Chessex and GMT. This assumes that I will follow up my new game purchases with the energy of actually trimming out hundreds of counters.

Even though I didn't spend a lot of time at Dragonflight, the experience was rewarding and I will attend next year and run an event of my own.