Sunday, August 26, 2018

We're in Dutch!

We had a good time playing at Meeples Games in West Seattle on Saturday. Kevin Smyth and I were testing the scenario (more or less) for the Song of Drums and Tomahawks game we'll be running at the Fix Bayonet! game day in September at Historic Ft. Steilacoom.

There were six of us playing: The Daves (me, Dave Demick, and Dave Schueler), Kevin, Bob Mackler come up from Sumner, and Bill Stewart from literally around the corner in West Seattle.

The Hurons: Dave, Dave, Kevin
The scenario has a mixed force of Dutch and Iroquois on the wild outskirts of New Netherland ca. 1640 trying to make it off the board lengthwise against an equal number of Hurons trying to stop them.

Bob, Bill, and I were the Dutch/Iroquois. Kevin, and the other two Daves were the Hurons. We set up in three successive files marching Indian-style and the Hurons came in from off board to attack us. Bill was out front with 8 Iroquois, I was in the center with 6 Dutch musketeers and two officers, Bob had the rear guard.

Marching on
We ended up engaging pretty soon. As far as advancing down the table goes, we hit our high-water mark pretty much after the first move. The Hurons all came in on one side—probably more to do with where they were sitting than with actual strategy.

See how Bill hastens to his death
Kevin swooped in on Bill's group in the lead. The dice favored Bill not, yet smiled benignly on Kevin. After a few turns of fighting, Bill was getting pasted and Kevin hadn't lost a man. Bill had to make morale checks for losing his leader and then for losing half his force. This was probably for the best because his skedaddling men managed to get away from the maelstrom.

One, however, stayed put as the Huron tide washed over him. Beset to his front, but not overwhelmed, he fought on as the exultant Hurons washed past him in a flood.

Bill's brave musketeer fights on
In a head-to-head fight with Dave Demick's masked chief (Dave had rushed about half his force to help Kevin against Bill), Bill's heroic musket-armed Iroquois managed to inflict a killing blow against him and run back to saftey.

Kicked butt, changed position, reloading...
While Bill was suffering at the head of the line, Bob and I were engaging Dave Schueler's and the other half of Dave Demick's groups. I turned off the marching path early and started taking shots with my musketeers as soon as the Hurons came in close range.

Sucking them into .85 calibre range!
The fight around the middle of our line turned out to be the hottest. Dave Schueler called it the Plain of Skulls because of all the Litko skull tokens we used to mark where a figure had fallen.

Bob and I were engaged mostly with Dave Schueler's group and some of Dave Demick's. I managed a few effective musket shots right off the bat. In our first game of Song of Drums and Tomahawks, we'd (or I'd) forgotten about the leadership bonus until late in the game. Trying to reload, which takes two actions, or to get an aimed shot, also two actions, was pretty dicey with Q4 troops. This game, I was able to keep my troops close to my leader, Lt. Groot, and found that reloading and aiming was easier to accomplish—although I had many, many (it seems) activations where I missed the two required to reload. I eventually started using my musketeers for melee since it was easier to get into contact than to reload/shoot.

Firing line: bows and muskets
Muskets are pretty effective. There were many bow-shots in the game, but I can't recall any shot putting a figure out of action. Muskets were dropping figures all over. In this regard the Dutch had an advantage with having 6 musket-armed figures. The Indian groups had no more than 2 each.

I started out with Lt. Groot in the forefront of the action, flanked by 2 musketeers. My hero, Cpl. Van Buskirk, was off doing his own thing, mostly in reserve as I fought the urge to pitch him in the midst of the fight. Both leaders were armored and had the Primitive Weapon trait for their quasi-Medieval pole weapons, but I only gave them C2. Their big advantage was having a better chance to beat defeat or death and the possibility of an instant kill when they won on a natural 6 die roll.

Groot's first stand
For Lt. Groot these advantages weren't enough. Surround by 3 Hurons, he fought bravely but was felled by a blow from a big war club, which counted as a Primitive Weapon. In the ensuing morale checks everybody but my hero (who was immune to checking) fled back a bit.

Groot's last stand
Bob was nibbling away at Dave Schueler's force, but taking losses himself. He lost his leader and went down to half strength.

Chief Mackler (pre-mortem)
Bob's hero, however, survived the fight with tales to tell. With his wooden armor and a big war club, he could pretty much take on anyone and live.

Don't mess with Smashing Bear
As our position on Bill's front deteriorated, Kevin rushed in with his still intact group and smacked into the flank of my beleaguered Dutchmen. It was dicey going. At one point, Cpl. Van Buskirk endured five bow/musket shots against him in one turn. Thank goodness for steel cuirasses!

Kevin's Hurons come on
I was soon surrounded and taking losses. Apart from Lt. Groot, I'd only lost 1 musketeer up till now. But Kevin's and Dave Demick's groups coming up on my flank changed all that. I quickly lost another 2 musketeers and was looking for an opportunity to fall back.

Kevin's hero taking out Musketeer Van Dyke
Kevin's reign as the intact player ended, however. Bill lost half his force—including his leader and his hero—but he was still a potent enemy and sending shots into Kevin's warriors as they moved into our center.

Bill still in the fight
After a few turns of intense fighting, Kevin wound up losing both his leader and his hero. In the morale check after losing his leader, every one of his figures scampered back 2 or three moves.

Kevin's leader fatally takes on Bill's remnants
We called it soon after that. Kevin's group was the least molested of all. He had 6 figures out of 8 remaining, but his two losses were his leader and hero. Dave Schueler had 2 figures remaining, both in contact with Dutch musketeers with the issue in doubt. Dave Demick had, I think, just one figure remaining. Bill had three. I had four. Bob had four.

The Dutch/Iroquois patrol would make it through, but much diminished.

The Plain of Skulls
The game was fun and Meeples is always a nice venue for occasional games, although the tables are generally small. The food and beer is good.

Song of Drums and Tomahawks is part of a great system from Ganesha Games. The engine is pretty useful and I've played several of the Song of... variants for everything from the Bronze Age to the ECW. We talked up using Flying Lead for gaming WW2. I have several Copplestone Back of Beyond Chinese warlord minis that I can get paiting on, plus a couple FT-17s. Bill has a vast amount of single-mounted WW2. I see something happening with that later this year.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sumer-time and the paintin' is easy

Sumer? Yes, Sumer, I Akkad you not. I may be rash, mercurial—even mistaken—but to Ur is human and the urge to Ur is upon me. As with many serendipitous projects, the moment has met the man and I'm going full speed ahead. Sæpe erro, nunquam dubito!

I blame Ernie Calvillo for this sudden development. (The cats are innocent—this time.) He posted on the Lion Rampant Facebook Group about the Sumerians he was painting, and that got me all worked up.

Ernie's Sumerians
I've been a fan of Sumerians for pretty much ever. Yet in all that time, the only Sumerian minis I've painted were for a 15mm DBA army (Essex Miniatures), since sold. I'd wanted to do a 28mm army for a while, but I never had a feel for the right minis to use. Wargames Foundry started a range years ago. I love their minis. The range looked promising, but they abandoned it. It was unavailable for a long time and is now available again. However, it's a very limited, unfinished range and there's no chariots; in fact, it's just spearmen and javelinmen.

Cutting Edge (Warlord) makes Sumerians, but I can't bring myself to use that range. I bought some Middle Bronze Age Amorites (think Mari) from them a few years ago. I was pretty eager when I orderd, but then very disappointed by the minis when the order arrived. They're beautiful and have a lot of nice detail—but they're so wee! Compared to other 28mm ranges, they're like skinny children. I like chunk. Cutting Edge minis have no chunk at all.

Newline (L) and Cutting Edge (R)
I'd seen a few other ranges, such as Eureka Miniatures and Castaway Arts from Down Under, but I hung back. I didn't want to make a move without first seeing the minis or at least seeing better pictures of them.

Finally, I just wasn't sure of what I would do with a lot of Sumerians after I'd painted them. I love Ancients, but the state of that part of the hobby seemed to be in a doldrums, at least to me. But now I know: I'll use 'em for Pat Lowinger's Chariots Rampant variant for Lion Rampant (Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy, Issue 82).

Ernie and I gamed together back in San Jose, CA 30+ years ago. He's now in San Antonio, TX and I'm in here in Beautiful, Formerly-Bucolic Lynnwood, WA. Ernie has always been an excellent—and prolific—painter.  He's also always had an eye for good minis. When I saw the pics in his post, I asked who made them. He told me that they were Newline Designs and that for July they were 20% off their normally reasonable price of a bit more than £1.00 per figure. In my head the voices screamed, "BUY NOW!" What could I do? I bought now and for a ridiculously low price, I got more than enough minis for a Chariots Rampant army—with options! Now I have an unexpected summer Sumer project on my hands.

So, why Sumerians?

Well, because they're cool. They're one of the oldest civilizations on Earth. So old they're just on the cusp of being prehistoric—and I like prehistoric things (see my love for prehistorical Europe) as I love all that is old and arcane. I strive every day to be older and arcaner myself.

Sumerian soldiers wear sheepskin skirts and go barefoot; they're like The Flintstones with ziggurats. They used four-wheeled, shambling proto-chariots drawn by "equids," i.e., not quite horses. They fought in phalanxes 2000+ years before the Greeks figured it out. They wore shiny copper helmets and fearsome, metal-studded capes long before Batman made wearing capes cool.

Caped Crusaders - 3rd Millennium BC
Sumerians invented writing, art, literature, and law. (They also invented government bureaucracy, so it's not all good.) They invented the cat—no, seriously, see this. They invented cities. They had ginormous eyes.

They invented sexagesimal mathematics, which we still use to calculate time, angles, and compass points. They invented the sail (maybe) and the wheel (also maybe—at least it wasn't that guy from the B.C. comic strip). They created the first armies and also produced the first records of how soldiers looked (ca. 2500 BC) on the Standard of Ur and the Stele of the Vultures.

Standard of Ur
Stele of the Vultures - detail
So, yeah, Sumerians are cool.

They're also easy to paint. Prehistoric, and nearly prehistoric, people dressed simpler than we do, and we dress simpler than people in the past. Try painting early 18th c. British regulars to see what I mean. But I digress.

The sheepskin, capes, and shiny helmets I mentioned above are about all the costume the Sumerian soldiers had. Only bare-nekkid Celts could be simpler—and they have those elaborate shield patterns to muck up the whole simplicity groove thing.

Sans spear, axe, cape, helmet, and shield he'd pass as Cro-Magnon
I ordered from Newline in two batches. After my initial order, I convinced myself that I needed more and made a wee supplemental order. The second smaller order came on Wednesday. It contained more of the infantry I ordered (spearmen, slingers, javelinmen, command), but also three straddle carts. The straddle cart seems to have been developed a bit later than the better known four-wheeled battle car. I haven't seen any actual Sumerian art depicting them. Yigael Yadin doesn't address them in The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, but The Two Nigels show them in Armies of the Ancient Near East 3,000 BC to 539 BC. I had one in the first order, so I have four. I'm not really sure I wanted four.

Straddle this x4
I cleaned up several minis right away. The flash is minimal and the metal is softish (not rock-hard pewter), so cleaning was pretty easy. I replaced the cast lead spears/javelins with Northstar wire spears. I love those things. I must have bought a thousand of them.

Bronze Age warriors with brass spears
At this point, the first order hasn't arrived. International postal service isn't a science. I expect it'll come this week. Meanwhile, I've started painting what I have. So far, it's just the skin tone. I used Vallejo Medium Flesh. They look suitably Sumerian to me. There's not much else to paint for the most of them. They either wear a fringed kilt or some kind of sheepskin. It won't take much time.

I have a lot on my plate right now, but I hope to get a few units of these banged out this month and the rest in September. Then it's time for another Rampant game day.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Is three enough?

I know it's crazy, but I've just acquired my *third* copy of the old Al Margolis Legion ancients rules that were published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1976. In my defense, I thought I was only acquiring a second copy.

Legion was one of the first sets of ancients rules—really, of any miniature wargame rules—I ever played. I mentioned them in my previous post about Al Tilley. For a time, they were our go-to ancients rules. They have the advantage of not requiring enormous numbers of figures to build armies, so you can get gaming with minimal effort and build from there.

Units are either 8 or 6 figures. Legion uses the same base size as the WRG Ancients rules, so based minis would be interchangeable. Heavy and medium infantry are two 4-figure bases; light-heavy, light-medium, and most cavalry are two 3-figure bases; light infantry and light cavalry are three 2-figure bases.

Legion is old school. Not that that's a bad thing. Far from it. I like old school, but it's different from the norm of today. The rules use a D100 for combat and moral. (This is something Legion shares with the venerable Square Ancients we played at Al's—except at Al's we used his nifty random number generator.)

Missile fire is a pretty straight up percentage chance for inflicting a figure loss, though casualties on the shooter plus other modifiers can bring than number way down to a minimum shot of 5%. Shooting isn't a big killer, but with so few figures per unit, one figure lost can be significant and tell against a unit's combat ability and morale.

Melee combat is more involved, which is where the old-schoolness comes in. Like in WRG Ancients, the combat value of a weapon type depends on the type of armor/formation it fought. For example, a unit armed with pilum fighting SHC (super-heavy cavalry, like cataphracts) has just a 20% hit, whereas the same weapon against MI (medium infantry) has an 80% hit. Modifiers also come into play, so a unit may have a better or worse shot. Once the basic melee hits are resolved, there's a slightly more fiddly procedure to determine the overall victor of the melee round. I won't go into it, but it involves math, the kind of math that people like me never use except for wargaming. The result of all the mathifying is to get a victory quotient that runs from 1.0 (even up) to 5.0 (they're so screwed). Each quotient corresponds to a probability from 50% (for 1.0) to Automatic Elimination (for 5.0). The roll of D100 subtracted from the probability produces a result.

Things can go south quickly. The more figures you lose in a unit, the more you're likely to lose. Although I can recall a few games where battered units hung in after taking a lot of punishment.

Despite its hoary age and old school pedigree, Legion is still a very playable game.

The illustrations throughout the rules are by Roy G. Krenkel, a contemporary and sometime collaborator with Frank Frazetta. Krenkel did a lot of the illustration for Edgar Rice Burroughs books as well as some for Robert E. Howard and others. The Legion art is pretty much sketches. Krenkel's more formal art is more impressive, which isn't to say that the rules artwork is anything to sneeze at. There's a fluidity, energy, and dramatic composition that belies its apparent simplicity. Krenkel illustrated a few other FGU rules, notably Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age.

Now that I have *three* copies of the rules, what will I do with them? Good question. I've entertained making a project with them for the past several years when I had only two copies (or just the one). I have a lot of Peloponnesian War era Greeks. Mostly unpainted Wargames Foundry lead. I could easily do up some small Spartan and Athenian forces without having to shell out for any figures. I'm also eager to paint some Aventine Miniatures figures, just not a lot. Legion doesn't require many figures for a decent game, so some Pyrrhic War gaming is a possible project for 2019 or so. (I'm kinda full up on buying new minis right now, which I'll detail in upcoming posts.)