Friday 27 March 2015

I'll put a hex on you

The other night Peter J. and I played out a few hours of the Actium scenario. Peter was playing Antony's lot and I was playing the part of Octavian. Peter decided that the surest way to win was to break out with as many ships as possible and fight only as the situation warranted. It was a sound plan, and at the end of the first evening's play it was obvious that Peter would break out successfully with his centre, in all likelihood with Cleopatra and the treasure ship. I conceded defeat. Here are a few of shots of the action.

 On my right, Lurius' engages with Publicola. The battle is pretty even.
 I decide to egg my pudding with some support from my centre under Aruntius as some of Publicola's ships break through the first line.

Win the flanks, then attack the centre.
 I also send some support towards my left as Sosius nimbly by passes my blocking squadron.
In the centre Insteius', Acco's and Cleopatra's vessels join together a devastatingly large squadron. I have depleted my centre to gain the flanks but I will not be able to get them to turn inwards in time to prevent the bulk of Antony's fleet escaping.

I quite like this battle, and having recently read the War Galley (GMT Games) rules I thought it might be nice to give them a go, with miniatures, for this battle. Problem, I don't have a hexed table to play on.

You know how you sometimes have a moment of madness.......

What the bloody hell was I thinking when I knocked up a hex template on a sheet of transparent plastic, putting holes I could mark through at the line intersections. 

Why did I think it was a good idea to I start marking out the hexes on the table.
It began to dawn on me..........

The hexes are two and three quarter inches across flats (the lines are 4 cm long to accommodate the bases of my ships). My table, if you include the drop leaf extension is fifteen foot by six foot. 

.............this is going to take me ages.

Sunday 22 March 2015

The Battle of Actium 31 BC

The history leading up to Actium, the institution of the triumvirate, Antony’s wife, the general political situation in Greece, and all that, is a complicated subject and I hope those familiar with the facts will forgive my superficial historical background notes.

The order of battle I have for Actium is sketchy. Agrippa had few big ships with fives in the front line and smaller vessels in the second. Agrippa believed that it was an economy of force to have two lines, with smaller ships in the second rank to prevent an enemy diekplous manoeuvre. Antony chose to fight an all ‘big ship’ battle to overawe an enemy superior in numbers. I might have over egged the number of Antony’s big ships but I think the feel is right, especially under Fleet of Battle rules. I have taken a liberty with the ratio of ships present; at 1:10 there should be 23 warships for Antony and 40 warships for Octavian; I have given 25 to Antony and 39 to Octavian. This was done to balance the size of squadrons and to allow Antony to have his own flagship – as I understand it, he alighted onto a light vessel at the outset to better oversee the battle - and it might also improve game balance.

The map below shows the gap between Leucas and the mainland as salt marsh. The Osprey shows it as the passage taken by Antony to Actium. 

Note that, quinqueremes pictured with corvus are standing in for vessels without a corvus - I only have 30 quinqueremes without one and this scenario calls for 36.

Anyway, here is the scenario, I hope you like it and it proves useful to some of you.

Historical Background

As with many wars in history Actium was the culmination of a simple (but relatively hard to explain) dynastic struggle. In this case the dispute arose over the ultimate inheritance of Julius Caesar and his legacy of an accepted dictatorship. This was a war to become, or at least control, a hereditary dictator – the winner would become the first Emperor of Rome. On one side was Julius Caesar’s adopted son and official heir Octavian and the majority of the Senate with a power base in Italy, on the other side was Mark Antony, Cleopatra and her son Caesarian (professed to be the true offspring of Julius Caesar) and a minority of the senate with a power base in the east.

In 32 BC Anthony concentrated his fleet in the Gulf of Ambracia on the west coast of Greece whilst his army was stationed at Patrae and in other outposts. In 31 BC Octavian moved to confront him by launching a surprise campaign against his fleet. Antony became aware of the threat only just in time to get the soldiers he had immediately available to his fleet ahead of his rival. 

When Antony arrived he found his fleet had wintered badly. He had lost a third of his fleet's crew to disease, malnutrition or desertion. When Octavian's fleet offered battle Antony was forced to decline. Octavian was unwilling to risk his ships entering the narrows of the gulf so a stalemate occurred.

As the campaign season progressed, both sides built up the strength of their land armies and the stalemate continued. However, at sea, Octavians fleet was going from strength to strength; slowly but surely his admiral, Agrippa tightened the noose around Antony's position. Suffering from disease brought on by a badly placed camp, and unable to run supplies past Agrippa’s blockade, Antony’s forces were being rapidly starved, depleted and demoralised. 

Antony and Cleopatra were at crisis point, their army and fleet could not survive long, given its predicament, and they risked losing the war by default. At a council of war they decided to forcibly recruit enough men locally to man the oars of the fleet and burn any ships that were unable to be crewed. The fleet would be risked in a breakout to Egypt; here, the escaping army would form the nucleus of a new attempt on power. The legions left behind in Greece were to hold out as long as possible. Providing that the vast Ptolemy treasure which had accompanied Cleopatra and Antony could be saved the plan was strategically sound - Octavian’s forces were in better shape, and his fleet was undoubtedly superior, but Octavian had cashed in everything for his cause. He was desperately short of money and his war effort was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy; if Antony, Cleopatra and their treasure made it back to Egypt Octavian would be forced to sue for terms due to lack of funds. 

On 2nd September 31 BC, Antony and Cleopatra’s fleet of 230 warships and some transports emerged from the Gulf of Ambracia to give battle with Octavian’s fleet of almost 400 warships. 

Octavian’s Order of Battle

Fleet Commander: Agrippa. D12 fleet die. Seasoned fleet sequence deck.

All ships have trained crews for ramming and raking. All ships count as seasoned for boarding actions and seamanship. All ships are fast (see notes on enemy fleet).

All quinqueremes and triremes are heavy. 

All quinqueremes have catapults and one tower; all may shoot harpago. 

All liburnians are aphract. Liburnians suffering a ‘hole’ and ‘fire’ due to a single missilery hit are immediately sunk.

Left Wing:

Front line (A): Agrippa: Squadron die D12
·         7 Quinqueremes

Second Line (B): Drasus: Squadron die D10
·         3 Liburnians
·         3 Cataphracted Triremes

Front Line (C): Aruntius: Squadron die D12 
·         7 Quinqueremes

Second Line (D): Agricola: Squadron die D10
·         3 Liburnian
·         3 Cataphracted Triremes
Right Wing:

Front Line (E): Lurius: Squadron die D10
·         7 Quinqueremes

Second Line (F): Octavian: Squadron die D10
·         2 Liburnian
·         4 Cataphracted Triremes

 Antony and Cleopatra’s Order of Battle

Fleet Commander: Antony. D10 fleet dice. Poor fleet sequence deck.

One ship in Acco's squadron must be secretly noted as carrying Cleopatra. 

One ship in Acco's squadron, or a cargo ship, must be secretly noted as carrying the Ptolemy treasure - it may be Cleopatra's ship.

All ships have poor crews for ramming, raking and seamanship. All ships count as seasoned for boarding actions.

All quinqueremes and triremes are heavy. Antony’s trireme is fast.

All quinqueremes have catapults and one tower. 

All septeremes have catapults and two towers. 

All decares have catapults and three towers.

All quinqueremes, hepteremes and decares have strengthened hulls which reduce the effect of enemy ramming – the enemy are down 1 for ramming. This strengthening reduced the speed of Antony’s ships - in game terms this makes Octavian’s ships fast.

Left Wing (G):

Sosius: Squadron die D10
·         2 Hepteremes
·         4 Quinqueremes
Centre (H):

Insteius: Squadron die D10
·         1 Decares
·         2 Hepteremes
·         3 Quinqueremes
Antony (X):

Independent fleet flagship initially deployed on the right: Squadron die D10
·         1 Cataphracted Trireme

     Right Wing (I):

Publicola: Squadron die D10
·         1 Decares
·         2 Hepteremes
·         3 Quinqueremes

Reserve (J):

Acco & Cleopatra: Squadron die D10
·         1 Heptereme
·         5 Quinquiremes

Transports (K):

Squadron die D8
·         4 Cargo ships (under sail only)
 Victory Conditions

This scenario is, as yet, untested. Victory points have been set on a 'best guess' and may change in future. I don't think it is possible for Antony to win a straight up fight, but I've never played such an unbalanced battle (big ships Vs little ships) before, so I'm assuming his best chance of victory is to claim the bonuses for escaping.

As a basic rule of thumb it is Antony's objective to fight his way through Octavian's fleet and escape with as many ships as possible, especially including his own, Cleopatra's and the treasure ship. Octavian's objective is to sink and capture as many enemy vessels as possible and acquire the treasure ship. Antony's ships only count the western and southern table edges as safety - ships escaping via the northern table edge are deemed to be captured later.

At the end of the game, each side awards itself one point per 'oar' of enemy vessels sunk, surrendered and captured (E.g. five points for a Qunquereme, seven points for a septereme. Liburnians and cargo ships count as two points each). 

The Antonian fleet is awarded fifteen bonus points each for reaching the safety of the open sea (western and southern table edge) with Antony and Cleopatra. Reaching safety with the treasure ship is worth thirty points. Each ship reaching safety adds two more points to the total.

The Octavian fleet is awarded a bonus of fourty points if it captures the treasure ship - if it sinks it is lost to both sides. 

The player with the highest points total wins.

Fleet Of Battle Rule Amendments

Ships may not board ships MORE than two brackets larger or vice versa: E.g. Triremes cannot board decares (tens), liburnians cannot board sevens.

One Fleet Missilery card has been added to the standard sequence deck. It allows all ships, with catapults, to shoot. Each deck now has 25 cards.

Tactical Advantage cards no longer allow missilery by the whole fleet. They allow one vessel to shoot with an Up 1 modifier immediately the card is turned.

Liburnians and other smaller vessels suffering a ‘hole’ and ‘fire’ due to a single missilery hit (more, evens and Vs natural 1) are immediately sunk.

To keep things simple, Cargo sailing vessels cannot move into the wind at angles of 45 degrees or less. They can move with the wind on the bow at greater angles at a rate of 3". With the wind from other angles they move 6". They can only make forward progression twice on a cruise card, though they can use a third move to turn, and they cannot move backwards. They turn in increments of 45 degrees. They count as sevens (due to heavy construction) if rammed and they cannot be raked. They cannot ram and count as an aphract bireme in all other circumstances.

Fleet Of Battle Rules

Fleet of Battle rules, along with some playing counter art for those without ships, are available to download, free of charge, from the Wargames Illustrated website. Links: 

Thursday 19 March 2015

Ancient Naval - Roll Call

Today I finished painting the last of my ancient galleys. They are 1:600 Xyston models and conversions. I have been collecting these ships for years. The collection started with a good sized purchase from Wargames World in Ilkley when, as a promotion, they were being sold on a 'buy one get one free' and Chris A. also threw in 'mates discount'. Since then I have scoured ebay for bargains. At first they came up quite often at good prices but, over the years, they have become much more scarce and I haven't bought one for at least twelve months. As this is only a 'filler period', or at least that is how it started, I think I have enough now - more than enough.

My 'galleys to do' box is now empty. I have a few strips of crew to do and I'll knock these off this week to finish the new arrivals - including a second ten that I converted from a seven (sevens are the largest vessel Xyston does so larger vessels need to be conversions). So, it's time for a..................Roll Call!

The fleet was not collected to fight any particular battle - I pretty much just bought what came up. Unlike any of my other collections it is not all painted by me. A dozen or so, mainly triremes, were painted by Wargames Illustrated's painter for a photo shoot for an article here a couple of years ago; I was given the ships at the end of the shoot.

The fleet comprises:

Biremes x 8 
Triremes x 20 
Cataphracted Triremes x 11
Quadriremes and Quinquiremes x 46 (including 16 with corvus)
Severns x 7
Tens x 2
Cargo ships x 9
Wrecks x 15.

Two Decares (Tens) which have been lengthened, widened and made higher than the original model. It is not a perfect solution because the oars banks have not been lengthened, however, the effect is pronounced and makes them easily recognisable as significantly bigger ships.

The next battle here, in a couple of weeks because we are playing Commands and Colors Napoleonic at Graham's place, will be Actium 31 BC, a battle where the big ships can be used.

Before I'm jumped on for historical inaccuracy, I am fully aware that galleys fought without masts, often putting them ashore before battle, but I decided early on that the models looked better with a bit of height, and the masts were useful for measuring missilery ranges (mast to mast) and LOS accurately in crowded situations.

As requested by ncc1717 here is a closer look at my trading vessels
Here you can see two kinds. The ones with the white swan backs are by Xyston. The ones with the less detailed sterns are my efforts that I described here: Drop casting my own trading vessel. I recently re-rigged these with spare masts and sails from the triremes given to me by Dan Fauconbridge of WI.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Enthused, what the hell does that mean?

You might well ask.

I've just come back from one of the best war game's weekends I've ever been on. Right now I should be buying figures, I should be making roads, rivers, hills.....Nope.

I looked at the huge table I played on last weekend and thought about the patch of beige that has intersected my own table since I added the permanent extension.....

Yesterday I went down to my local hardware shop (I'm lucky to have a good one) and bought some 20mm half round moulding for the table edge and a couple of 250ml match pots. A few hours later I had a new sea scape (15 x 6) and a table that no longer snags clothes. The moulding cost more than I'd hoped because the 8 foot length was two inches shorter than the eight foot of edge - so I had to buy two. However, being able to buy match pots enabled me to paint the 'extension' for less than £4.00, so swings and roundabouts.

I didn't know you could get any colour you like by Dulux in 250ml pots before yesterday. Wow! I went back today and bought several more, in several weird colours that confused the shop assistant no end.  I don't dare to think what he thinks the walls in my house look like!

My wife does not like most painted war game tables because they are too plain. I can help her with this by the simple addition of 'borders'. Apparently, according to my wife, a nice border makes a gaming table a piece of furniture [grin].

The picture of the sea doesn't accurately portray the actual colour, which is more like the colour in this shot. It is Dulux Azure Fusion 2, code: 70BG 11/257.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

An away game.

Last weekend I played an away game. 

Steve R. had invited me up to Scotland to play in one of the large multi-player games staged by the League of Gentlemen Wargamers, to be fought over Saturday and Sunday, in Kirriemuir. Steve R. had been organising this Wars of the Roses game for ages. From what he had told me it was not a game to be missed so when he invited me to play I jumped at the chance.

The game was played on the biggest table I've ever seen. It was the 'Kingmaker' map made large, though the actual war game only bore a passing resemblance to the board game. 

In this picture I'm taking the shot from the Scottish border, the hexagonal towers (near distance on the right) are in North Wales, and Bill (the chap furthest away) is stood in the English Channel with France at his back. 

The game had fourteen players, each playing a major noble with client Lord and knight sub commanders; I was a Yorkist, Scrope of Masham, based in Durham.

On turn one I attacked Newcastle to gain control of Edward Earl of March before Percy (Andrew) could get to him. Unfortunately this was the high watermark of my entire weekend. 

Two moves later I had lost two of my three nobles and was forced to give Edward up to one of the Nevilles (Yorkist Kev), to keep him from certain death and fight the remainder of the first day with just six units - I couldn't reinforce because my remaining noble could only control a maximum of six units and I couldn't roll up a new commander during the reinforcement phase to save my life. For the remainder of the game I had to be content fending off southerly movement by Percy, and even that looked doubtful (I almost switched sides) at one point.

Elsewhere the struggle was just as fierce.

Kev (right) and Colin (left) fight it out west of York.
Colin is fighting off two Yorkists because Peter is attacking north from the welsh borders.
The 'mid' south table, where most of the players will end up fighting around a plague stricken London.
West of London, Dale surveys from what will become the Lancastrian side of this table. 

Here there would be four or five Lancastrian players facing north against three or four Yorkists facing south depending on which side Charlie was on at the time.
Charles G., heading north to join his Lancastrian chums, moves through what I think is Southampton, or possibly Oxford (the island is the Isle of Wight).
The main battle lines are forming west of London at the start of day two.

Charlie (left), that would be 'Turncoat Charlie', changed sides so many times that I suspect even he didn't know which side he was on by the end; almost everyone else had decided it didn't matter which side he said he was on, because he wasn't on their side [grin]. 

Bill (right) would be the eventual winner.

Burger King crowns, if you were wondering, were to be worn by players in possession of Royal personages.

Man of the hour, game organiser and umpire Steve R. (centre) explains a point of law to Andy "d'Ice Man Percy" (left) somewhere south west of Norwich.
The game ended with a Yorkist victory (Edward of March was the last surviving Royal, but was uncrowned) with a Lancastrian player (Bill) ending the war as the most powerful (player with most points won) noble.

Thanks to all of the 'Gentlemen' for what, I must say, was a weekend to remember. I enjoyed it immensely. 

Special thanks to Steve for organising such a large and successful game and inviting and taking care of me; to Dale for his hospitality on Friday night; to Colin for giving me a lift to Edinburgh to catch my train on Sunday afternoon; to Andrew, my most loyal enemy.