Friday 27 June 2014

Tony Bath - War Game of the Middle Ages and Ancient Times - part 2

So how did the rules work out?  Well I have to admit when I was drafting the quick reference sheet I had grave misgivings.  Players dice to see who goes first in each game turn, the winner moves, fires and melees, then the loser does the same, actions are consecutive not simultaneous.  Movement distances and terrain penalties are sensible and not over complex, the same goes for firing ranges and effect, so it's all fast moving.  So far so good.

The French Battle advances, crossbow companies in the lead followed by knights on foot and heavy infantry.  The mounted knights hold back while the footmen test the softness of the ground and clear a path through the English men at arms.

The only difficulty we had was with the melee system, the rules state that when a figure from one side moves to within half an inch of an enemy they create the "contact point" and that all figures within an infantry move (i.e. 12 inches) of said point are included in the melee. Seems straightforward but in practice so many troops are drawn in that it just becomes one almighty bundle, perhaps it works better with 30mm figures?

First blood to the archers, three companies of French crossbows get off the first string of arrows and annihilate the Burgundian bowmen.  Realising the threat of being unable to reply to the enemy archers the English light horse charge and catch them unsupported in open ground as they ride them down.

The melee is a two stage process, first you asses which side has won then you calculate the casualties.  And this is where the difficulty comes in, different troop types (see QR sheet at bottom of post) have combat values which vary depending on the troop types opposing them.  This is fine when both sides have the same troop types in the melee but with the 12 inch inclusion zone described above it is inevitable that you will have mixed arms (heavy/light cavalry, heavy/light infantry etc.) on both sides and we found it nigh on impossible to figure out who had won the melee, try it yourself and you'll see what I mean.  

To simplify the situation we broke the melees down into a unit on unit calculation rather than the 12 inch free for all and it seemed to work okay.  Once the winner has been decided, casualties are based on a simple calculation which ensures that the larger side always wins, very similar to the system in H G Wells "Little Wars"

The footmen of both sides lock horns as they slowly splash through the soggy marshlands.

In the melee we found that when the heavier armoured French eventually came to grips with the enemy they bludgeoned their way through the lines but the greater numbers and mobility of the lighter Allies meant that they could quickly plug the gaps to blunt their advance and wear them down by attrition.

Four companies of English men at arms hover like mosquitoes around the edges of the wetlands.

Over the years I've been picking up bits and pieces of Timpo knights on the cheap - a pair of legs here, a torso there, from the junk boxes at shows and when I started to put all the bits together I found I had a decent enough quantity to field an army with no painting involved.  The only drawback being that there is a preponderance of Crusaders which seem to have been very much more common.  The idea of using them as a Crusader army in the Holy Land doesn't really float my boat and I can't see me picking up enough Timpo Arabs to make that feasible so I have decided that any figure in a white tunic with a red Cross of St. George will be English.

After riding down the French archers the English cavalry have overreached themselves and are charged in the flank by the French heavies.

I think it's fair to say that some rather basic tactical errors were made on both sides, notably advancing archers unsupported in an attempt to close the range for them (I might consider extending the bow range to 3 feet in future games).  With the loss of all the archers the game turned to one of local melees erupting all over the field and with no morale rules to break the tension these became a fight to the finish slugfest.

The English numbers hold up well against the heavier strength of the French knights and both sides are worn down by attrition until the allies decide to slip away leaving the French in command of the field but too depleted to follow up.

So all in all a fun fast play game, we both agreed the rules worked well as the core of the system but they need a little bit more built around them like something to cause a unit to break and run or even refuse to fight.   Our aim was to play the to game as close as we could to the original rules, or at least our interpretation of their intention and I think we achieved that, although I would love to have tried them using 30mm flats.  This was just a trial run so we kept the scenario simple but tried to include as many of the troop types and terrain features as possible, the original manuscript offers additional features such as constructing earthworks, sieges, supply etc. And for the Ancients there are chariots and auxiliaries, all the more reason to buy the book (see last post)

The quick reference sheet for the rules, should anyone wish to give them a spin!  Oh I think I forgot to mention that the loser of a melee falls back 1 move, quite important that. 

Saturday 7 June 2014

Tony Bath - War Game of the Middle Ages and Ancient Times - 1956

Following on from the Herring War game a few weeks back (see earlier post) AM and I made tentative arrangements to meet again across the table of  Mars, AM chose the period, Medieval, so I got to choose the rules.  I was a little surprised at the choice, but pleasantly so as I'd been spending a little too much hobby time working on the 17th and 19th centuries recently and a change is as good as a rest etc.

The lay of the land at the start of the game.  The flower of French chivalry confidently line the southern hills on the left while the bawdy English and their brutish allies the Burgundians are jostled into line along the northern slopes opposite, between them the marshes in the valley floor are swollen from the incessant rains

I mentioned in a previous post here that I had stumbled across the first set of wargame rules written by Tony Bath, founder of the Society of Ancients, in 1956 and since then I have been looking for an opportunity to try them out. 

The English lights - cavalry and infantry rush into the fray

There's something that appeals to me about the idea of using old rules for playing with old toy soldiers.  Now, my medievals don't hail from 1956, they're mostly from the 1960's, (well, some are) so not too far out. When I first read the rules I assumed they were written for 54mm soldiers because the movement distances were what I would expect for larger size figures and of course that was the type most widely available back then.  Also there was something about the game mechanisms that reminded me very much of Wells' Little Wars rules.

The well appointed French heavies - cavalry, infantry and swarms of crossbowmen begin a ponderous advance over difficult ground

Tony Bath actually used 30mm flat zinnfiguren which he imported from Germany for his games as the Ancient and Medieval periods were barely covered by the toy manufacturers of the day and this was long before the advent of the 20mm wargame miniature or even that pillar of the hobby soon to be known as Airfix.  By contrast the historical coverage of the flat manufacturers was, and remains, phenomenal.

Faced with the prospect of a charge from the heavy French horsemen, the English infantry make for the relative safety of the marshlands

Although the name of Tony Bath has become synonymous with the Ancient period it was to be several years after writing these rules that he founded the Society of Ancients and it is clear (apart from the title) that he intended them to stretch to cover at least the Hundred Years War as there is specific provision for "dismounted cavalry in full armour armed with shortened lance as used by the french at Poitiers".

The French crossbowmen have secured the ruined abbey

So, very much an old school game was had, with books under sheets for hills, pine cones for bushes, marshes hastily cut for the occasion from card and aquarium ornaments for ruins.  The Anglo-Burgundian force were mostly Timpo swappets with a hindrance of militia provided by Elastolin Saxons and stiffened by a phalanx of Deetail pikemen.  The French were mostly conversions, some painted in heraldic livery and finished in the toy style.

First blood to the French, the heavy cavalry on their right charges into the first line of Burgundian men at arms while a body of militia forms a hedge of pikes to protect themselves from the onslaught

We wanted to play the game as true as we could to the original rules without any tweaks and we could see that they depend on testing combat strength v mobility between the various differing classes of troops, so to give them a good first run out we made the opposing armies very different in composition.  The French were much heavier with greater firepower, about  30 heavy cavalry, 30 heavy infantry and 30 archers.  The Allies were much lighter but greater in number: 15 light cavalry, 60 light infantry, 10 militia, 10 heavy infantry and 10 archers. 

On the French left more heavy cavalry approach the marshes but are checked and look for firmer ground through them

I was given permission by the British Model Soldier Society to reproduce these rules for enthusiasts but before I got around to doing it I discovered they had been published as part of the History of Wargaming project, edited by John Curry, in Vol 4 - More Wargaming Pioneers so if you want to give this game a spin I would urge you to buy the book, it costs less than £12 and is part of a project that deserves all our support.  What I have done is produce a summary of the rules in a quick reference sheet which I will make available in the next post, but you really should still buy the book because there's a lot more in it.

The English men at arms jeer at the French knights from the relative safety of the wetlands egging them on to come forward