Monday, December 31, 2018

A Happy New Year!

A Happy New Year to all my readers out there in the blogosphere! My wife and I will spend the evening celebrating with friends, although I suspect we'll be heading home to bed not long after midnight. How does the saying go? "When I was young I used to slip away from home to go to parties. Now I'm old, I slip away from parties to go home."

Gaming will resume in the New Year. Now I have my hobby room and table the way I want them, I hope to get a lot more wargaming in than I managed in 2018. The Dux Britanniarum campaign will continue, but I'll also get my Sudan 1885 collection up and running, and - hopefully - finish off the 1/2400 pre-Dreadnoughts. Watch this space...

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Raid on the Border Tower

I hope everyone had a good Christmas! My wife and I had a great time with friends, and I managed not to eat too much for a change. With the holiday season upon us, I also found time for a wargame. My gaming table is back in commission, so I played the next game in my Dux Britanniarum campaign - and what a game it was!

Ebba the Saxon gained a measure of wealth from the March cattle raid, his first foray onto Romano-British soil. It had cost him some men dead, but two months were enough to see his force replenished by new recruits. Ever ambitious, Ebba has cooked up a scheme to raid once more into enemy territory, this time in search of a high-value prisoner to ransom. He got lucky. In May, word reached him that the Romano-British were patrolling the area along the border, their force led by Lord Cynbel the Magnificent. Such a sobriquet deserved to be measured against reality, so Ebba gathered his men and marched against the enemy.

Signals from the border tower alerted Cynbel to the presence of the Saxons. He gathered his two groups of warriors and marched for the tower. On the other side of the wood, Saxons gathered with grim purpose.

Up on tower hill the Romano-British Tribune, Gaius Menusius, had gathered the remainder of his force. He watched developments unfolding on the plain below. His Companions stood by close to hand. To his left the local levy had deployed with archers out front. The folks of the nearby farmhouse also gathered to watch the mass of warriors gathered on their doorstep.

The Saxon's movements had Gaius concerned for Cynbel. As the Lord appeared in the distance Gaius sent his Companions forward to reinforce him, convinced that the combined groups of warriors and Companions would suffice to see off the Saxon dog. 

The levy he ordered forward under the command of Lord Barriventus. With the archers leading the way, Barriventus made to block the gap between the farmhouse and the fishpond.

Ebba's men weren't slacking. The second group of hearthguard under Oeric caught up with their comrades as they reached the northern edge of the wood. There they paused a few moments to take stock. Ebba rubbed his beard and eyed the Romano-British warriors, noting they'd formed shieldwall. The Saxons in turn watched their short and wiry leader, wondering what passed through his mind.

The sounds of movement behind him told Ebba the rest of his force had caught up. Their leader, Wigmund Wodenborn waved to show he was ready for whatever mischief Ebba would unleash. Ebba waved back, his mind made up.

Ebba tapped his helmet more securely on his head, hefted his shield and looked at his men, his familiar cracked grin crossing his face. "We came to snatch a plump Roman lordling for ransom, and by Thunir's beard, that's what we'll do. Forward!"

The Saxons surged forward, bearing down on the Romano-British shieldwall. Oeric's unnerving cackle split the air as he leaped along at the head of his group. The enemy braced themselves for impact and Ebba saw Cynbel to their right, directing his men. Ebba's grin grew fierce as he ran. You're ours for the taking! With a mighty shout the Saxon force hurled missiles and struck the shieldwall. The sound of impact came like the death knell of mountains. Savage combat broke out all along the line as Ebba and his champion Oglaf made for the enemy's leader.

In the midst of it all Ebba recalled his previous time encounter with the famous shieldwall. Then things hadn't gone his way. Some quality about the fighting now told him circumstances would be different this time. Sure enough the shieldwall began to buckle as Britons fell. Ebba roared encouragement as he hacked men down to get at Cynbel. Redoubling their efforts his men pressed the enemy hard until they suddenly gave way, running for their lives and taking their lord with them.

The Romano-British warriors never stood a chance. Ebba had sensed the moment and urged his men onward. They caught the enemy as they ran and slew them to a man-and that man was Cynbel. The enemy lord earned his name that day, for he fought hard before Ebba overcame him in single combat.

Ebba stood, catching his breath as Oglaf secured the prisoner. Not far away the enemy Companions had slowed their approach as if appalled by the sudden destruction of their comrades. Alert for a possible rush on them Wigmund pushed and shoved the hearthguard away from looting the enemy and back into formation. The two sides snapped and snarled at each other across the open ground.

Ebba glanced at the dejected and beaten Roman lord and nodded his satisfaction. "We've got what we came for. Let's head home." His men looked askance, every line in their bearing showing their reluctance to move away from glorious combat and all potential spoils that might ensue. Ebba glared around at them. "We move. Now."
The other side of the wood saw little activity on the Saxon's part. Wigmund watched the enemy's movements even as the sounds of combat beyond the wood filled the air. The Romano-British had sent their levy against him. Wigmund spat and grinned. Levy didn't frighten him. He watched one of the enemy fall to an arrow loosed by his archers. "That'll take some of the sting out of them."

The Saxon archers grew too bold, and got too near the enemy. The levy suddenly surged forward and the archers yelled and dispersed, but not before slaying another levy man. The sound of fighting beyond the wood died down and Wigmund grinned as he recognised Saxon yells of victory. His men faced off against the levy, daring them to come on. Each moment they wait will be another moment Ebba'll have to win clear, he thought.

And so it came to pass. The Romano-British Companions followed at a safe distance as Ebba and his men carried the wounded Cynbel away, Oglaf towering over the prisoner as if daring him to try to escape.

Within minutes the pursuit - such as it was - proved useless. Ebba made for the safety of the land beyond the Romano-British border and his horn blower sounded a jubilant note to summon the rest of his force to his side. Ebba eyed the crestfallen Roman and grinned. "We'll trade you for a pretty sum, old cock, see if we don't."
* * * *
Well, that unfolded in a way I didn't expect. Ebba seized his moment, grabbed a ripe hostage and made good his escape. When all was tallied up he'd scored a major victory over the Romano-British. Three Retreat cards to zero enemy Pursuit cards, plus his wiping out two groups of warriors saw Ebba with a handsome +4 on the campaign winner results table. It means he replaces all his slight losses within a month and gains two extra volunteer warriors for his force the next time he takes the field. Ebba ransomed the unfortunate Cynbel for a Theif's Hoard, and gained another matching hoard when he raided unopposed in the following month of June. Come July, the Romano-British recover enough to contest the Saxons - but what will Ebba do next?

Ebba began the campaign with a Tribune's Tribute of wealth, so he was already quite wealthy. After two opposed raids and a free month to pillage due to enemy weakness he has now amassed a King's Treasury. At the end of the year he'll owe his King back home a Beggar's Bowl in tribute, but Ebba can already disburse a shower of loot amongst his hearth guard who'll proclaim him a mighty warlord, and he'll still have enough left over for contingencies. In campaign terms when a Saxon leader is declared a warlord it gives him the power to contest with the Romano-British for ownership of a province.

On the other side of the hill poor old Gaius Menusius is proving to be more Gauis Uselessness. He possesses a Tribune's Tribute of wealth, but has been unable to win enough prestige to gain his King's favour and the wealth needed to expand the defences of the realm. It might prove the ideal time for a newly-minted Warlord Ebba to strike...

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Early Romans & Germans

My gaming table is out of commission for a while as I need to rearrange furniture to make best use of what space I have. In the meantime I sorted through the 6mm Early Imperial Roman collection I brought back from England. So far so good - the contents of the box got a bit jumbled in transit but there's no sign of damage to any figures. Even the buildings came through mostly unscathed. I was quite stunned by the discovery. Airport baggage handling systems are not known for their delicacy.

The legion itself is made up mostly of Irregular Miniatures with a leavening of Heroics & Ros. The Germanic horde is mostly Heroics & Ros with a leavening of Irregular Miniatures. I use a man-figure ratio of 10:1, but with a bit of readjustment the legion could even take the field at 1:1. It's quite a sight lined up ready for action. Hopefully once the table's back in operation I'll be able to take photos of it.

Part of the legion deploys in front of a Roman civilis in the province of Germania, somewhere near the Rhenus. A cohort of Classiari (Marines) takes post behind the legion's left flank. Auxiliary archers take position in front of the Cohor Millaria whilst the legate gives a rousing speech.

All the buildings are scratch-built. There's even a statue in the centre of the pool in the apartment house courtyard. My eyesight was much better back then. A few Irregular Miniatures civilians gather in the grounds of the bathhouse, gossiping over the presence of so many soldiers whom they suspect vandalised the tree in the corner of the grounds. A funeral party attends the temple at top left. The dingy native quarter is at top right.

Not shown are the resin earthen ramparts and gates to make town walls for frontier settlements. I did make an entire basilica, the administrative heart of any Roman town, but unfortunately it proved too bulky to bring away. I shall build a new version. I also plan to expand the town with more buildings and roads to the point where I can play out a game of urban insurrection using the (in)famous Rioting in Alexandria rules published many moons ago in the Society of Ancients magazine.

So, here are a few more figures, this time Germanic tribesmen paying a not-so-neighbourly visit.

Tribesmen, comrades of Hermann. This is about a quarter of the total number of figures. I must do something to improve the basing, though.

Some of the relatively scarce Germanic cavalry and a gang of skirmishing youths make a speculative foray against the legion's left flank.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A touch of the 13th Century

I think we all have those odd figures in our collections or lead piles. They're the ones that make you wonder 'why did I get these?' Often enough they're the result of a passing fancy or unexpected gift. In this case it's a small heap of 13th century men at arms and knights, and I have a vague recollection of a guy gifting me these years ago as he was getting out of the hobby.

They're all 15mm and (I'm pretty sure) Minfigs. There are about a hundred or so figures, about half of which are painted, and some are stuck to flimsy cardboard bases.

Although a few are painted up to a reasonable quality I'm not keen on the general look of the paint job. The guy looks like he used gloss for a lot of the cavalry for a start. I'm researching online for the best environmentally friendly method of stripping the paint off them.

From little clues here and there I think the collection is intended for the Second Barons War, when Simon de Monfort challenged the autocratic power of King Henry III, only to get his head served to him on a plate after the Battle of Evesham by Henry's son, the future Edward I.

A few of the figures look like they might be Crusades-specific. I'm not sure the turbaned helmets and round studded shields saw much service in England. If they were I'll be happy to be educated.

I can use them for a small scratch force for both Royal and Baronial factions, although if there are shield transfers/decals available I'd love to know where I can get them, since the thought of painting heraldic devices in this scale is already making my eyes water.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Dux B - post game thoughts

On the whole I like the Dux Britanniarum rules. The random movement through dice rolls and the card activation system work well for solo play, opening some options and narrowing others. Once in combat the dice and cards do pretty much all the work, and in the recent game there were plenty of surprises and moments where I thought 'Huh. I didn't see that one coming.'

Another factor is the pre-game ability of the player with initiative to move areas of scenery to best advantage. As the Saxon Lord Ebba scored higher I determined he would ensure a pretty clear path for his force up the centre of the board, the quicker to get his stolen cattle away. The judicious placement of areas of bracken and a rocky outcrop made it difficult for the Romano-British to get a clear line of advance on the raiders.

For the raid scenarios it's a matter of a die roll to determine how far the defending force travels before the enemy appears, and where that enemy enters the board. In the cattle raid game just played the Romano-British appeared hard on the left flank of the Saxons after they'd travelled just two moves with the stolen cattle. I thought at the time it would be a short game as the Saxons would be embroiled with a host of angry Romano-British and defeated before they got the cattle away to safety. As it turned out the dice and cards introduced a hefty amount of friction to the plans of the two Lords.

The scenery blocked the Romano-British path, but not to the extent I thought it would. They got a force of levy within striking distance of the stolen cattle and the drovers, but stalled when the Saxons managed to put on a spurt of movement and place a formation of hearthguard within striking distance. At that point I considered the lord commanding the levy would err on the side of caution and form shieldwall.

In combat terms this proved a shrewd move. The sheildwall was able to deflect the missiles hurled by the hearthguard on their way in to attack, and also proved resilient in hand to hand combat. Had the levy not formed shieldwall and made a stand it's pretty much odds-on that they would've been caught and destroyed without being able to intercept the cattle, leading to a much great Romano-British loss at the end of the game.

From the first the group of Saxon warriors driving the cattle lacked a Lord to guide them. I didn't consider this much of a problem since leaderless groups activate at the end of the turn in any case, but having a leader with them made them move much quicker and sooner, especially when a Step Forth or Bounding Move card is played.

The end of the game saw the Saxons with two Retreat cards and the Romano-British with but one Pursuit card. Although I felt the Saxons had the worst of the fighting, totting everything up at the end saw them with a marginal victory from the raid. Ebba will have to lick his wounds for a couple of months, as will Gaius Menusius. This means they'll both take to the field again in June.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Ebba's Cattle Raid

The Saxon warlord Ebba sensed the Romano-British were close by, lurking in the mist-haunted flat landscape of the Fen country. He deployed his forces as best he could to anticipate attack from any direction. A group of warriors drove the stolen cattle onward, the hearthguard to the right flank, the remaining warriors and skirmishers to the left.

Ebba's instincts proved correct when groups of British warriors and elites emerged on his left flank...

First priority - get the cattle away. The drovers urge the beasts to greater speed whilst the raiders turn to face the enemy.The skirmishers fire at the oncoming Roman-British, inflicting mild shock on the warriors.

Cynbel the Magnificent leads the elites in a fierce charge against the Saxon intruders. Facing off against his opposite number Oeric the Insane, shrewd blows are traded.

As Cynbel engages the enemy Lord Barriventus leads the levy across the broken ground to intercept the cattle drovers. Has he made it in time?

Cynbel's men strike down two Saxons. Armour Bright preserves both British and Saxon Lords from harm. 

Barriventus is more concerned with the safety of his levy than with intercepting the stolen cattle. He orders the two groups into formation and erects the shieldwall just in time. Ebba himself leads his hearthguard into action. A hail of missiles strikes the shieldwall to no effect before the clash of arms commences. A third group of levy are hung up in the gorse and bracken, but are poised to come in on Ebba's flank - if they can pluck up the nerve to tangle with the fierce Saxon elites.

It looks like Barriventus' taking his eye off the ball will cost the Romano-British dearly. At Ebba's behest Saxon Lord Wigmund leaves the hearthguard and joins the cattle drovers in urging the beasts onward. The cattle need little encouragement to get away from the screaming and clashing of combat.

Over on the left flank the Romano-British warriors engage. The pressure is too much for the Saxons. One group breaks and routs. Satisfied all is well there, Gaius Menusius becomes anxious about the cattle. He pushes through the rough heathland to the isolated group of levy, and sees all is far from well with Barriventus.

The stalwart Lord is holding the Saxon hearthguard, who can make little impression on the shieldwall, but beyond the melee Gaius can see the cattle being driven away. Cursing under his breath Gaius urges the levy group into combat in a bid to break the Saxons so he can get to the cattle before it's too late. Coming in on the flank and rear of the hearthguard makes a serious impact for which the Saxons have little response.

Concerned for his fellows, Wigmund pauses to look back at the battle. The sight of Saxon warriors running away from battle justifies his concern, but he has almost got the cattle clear from the scene.

Gaius' plan works. The Saxon hearthguard take enough casualties and shock to make them fall back. Shaking the levy free of the fading melee Gaius leads them in a race against time - but the hot pursuit isn't hot enough. With a last effort Wigmund and his men drive the stolen cattle into the Fenland mists and safety.

The end of the affair. The deaths of numerous Saxon warriors will lead to much weeping amongst the womenfolk in the halls and bothies back home. Tired and battered, the survivors make their escape. Two won't reach the halls again, falling victim to accident and banditry in the hostile countryside, but the cattle are won and there's loot to share out. Ebba grudgingly concedes the enemy aren't as weak and feeble as he'd been led to believe, but he is content enough. Once he's had time to lick his wounds and recoup his losses, he'll be back to test the Romano-British once more.

So ends my first game of Dux Britanniarum, and very enjoyable it was too. I'll post a write-up of the way the rules played soon, head cold and time permitting.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Dux Britanniarum - Beginning the campaign

Ebba was Wodenborn, son of a foederatii dwelling in that part of south-eastern Britain his people had named Ceint. He was used to the relics of the old Romans - or so he thought. Leading his men through the early morning on their first raid into the soft heartland of the effete Romano-British they'd come across one of the old Roman canal and dyke systems. The watercourse stretched for miles across the misty flat landscape, running as straight as an arrow from horizon to horizon. Time had worn away at the banks, and parts of the low lying land had flooded with the spring rains, but the canal still carried water, the dyke still held back most of the floods. It all had a sobering effect on Ebba's men. Even the braggarts making up the contingent of warriors from the old country across the sea fell silent in the presence of such monumental works. Ebba sucked his teeth as they walked, contemplating the canal and wondering how he and his warriors would have measured up against the Romans of old.

Everyone cheered up when they reached a juicy target for their raid - a cattle farm, not far from the canal, guarded by a man and his sons. The man and two of his boys had perished in defence of their property at the hands of the Saxon warriors. The rest and their womenfolk had fled in terror. Mindful that the Romano-British were not entirely without teeth and might well be somewhere close by, Ebba had called his men off pursuing the peasants. They'd reluctantly come to heel, but appeared satisfied with the booty - six prime head of cattle.

Now they were on the return journey to the coast, driving the obstinate cattle before them. The mist had thickened during the day and Ebba cast his gaze all around, trying not to let his anxiety show on his face. A niggling itch in the back of his mind told him the enemy were close to hand, their forces gathering somewhere in the pestilential mist. Barking sharp words of command Ebba deployed his force as best he could, allowing for the landscape. Woodland lay to the right, interspersed with breaks of bracken and gorse. To his left more bracken and gorse, and an outcrop of rock at the western end of a low hill. The way ahead looked clear of obstacles, so Ebba directed the cattle drovers to steer the beasts in that direction.

A low, eerie sound carried through the mists. Someone was blowing a horn, the baritone note humming and throbbing through the murky air. All around Ebba his men instinctively gripped shield and spear as they tensed, looking for the source of the noise. Away to the left a shout rose. 'Enemy! Over there!"

Ebba looked in the direction of his left flank. Glints of something reflecting the weak sunlight sparked here and there until, emerging from the mist hard on his left flank came lines of men, girded for war and marching with purpose in their step. Ebba swore, snatched his helmet from the strap where it hung from his belt and jammed it on his head. "Drovers! Get those beasts moving. Hearthguard, to me!"

As his men began to move to the commands of his lords, Ebba growled softly. The Romans may have caught me by surprise, but we'll see who emerges the victor in this fight...


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