Tuesday 31 December 2019

JJ's Wargames Year End Review, 2019 & The Plan for the New Year Ahead, 2020

The end of another year in wargaming is the time to take stock of the fun had, plans achieved, or not, and more importantly what's next in the year ahead.

The latter activity rather implies a bit of scoping out towards the horizon and making plans based on the conclusions arrived at from ones observations; apologies for a rather contrived way to explain the picture heading up this year's review, from the great film 'Master & Commander' which given my recent activities with all things 'Age of Sail' seemed an appropriate theme to start with.

It's interesting to look back to the previous year's review and to remember what the 'then me' was looking forward to and how I envisaged my activities would be going forward.

I note with interest that my personal circumstances were very much in transition as I got used to a new routine with my retirement from full time employment and the opportunity that change created to focus a lot more on aspects of the hobby and other life aspirations that I had not had the time to give them when working.

Those aspirations included focus on the work to build my 28mm ancient collection and a new collection of terrain items together with looking forward to a holiday touring Peninsular War battlefields that I had wanted to do for a very long time.

Something I hadn't anticipated fully was my table being 'hors de combat' for nine months in 2019, and it's great to have things back to normal with 2020 to come.

As always and as predicted other life requirements filled the void left by not having to maintain a full time job that caused some modification to what I thought I might be doing in 2019, which primarily centred around the completion of some key house improvements to compliment my new found circumstances; that saw the addition of a new kitchen, new sun lounge and a refurbished utility room in which I normally store my 'to do' wargames stuff that had to come out and sit patiently upon my table during the refit.

Thus as mentioned in the Xmas game report with Tom, Will and Ben playing with the Romano-Dacian collection, the games room saw little action this year, but is now back and hopefully available to play some more games in 2020.

So as usual I begin this post with a look back on the activities in 2019 before considering what the plan is for the New Year and what you might expect to see here on the blog.

As laid out earlier in the life of JJ's Wargames, I decided I wanted the blog to serve as a personal journal of my time in the hobby and the friends I like to play wargames with, as well as being a magazine style blog with plenty of historical and wargaming content to interest the general reader.

The final set of blog stats for 2019

That intent remains and it is great that with over one million hits in six years, achieved this year, it seems a lot of people are interested enough to come and have a look even when you discount all the bot crawler hits that infest the web and confuse any attempt to accurately assess this aspect; better still a lot of people keep coming back to the blog and comment on posts, and a great community of regular followers has developed which only adds to the fun of doing this.

So based on the fact that it seems a lot of people like what happens here on the blog the intent is to keep on doing what we do, but better, and looking to do other things that will keep the content as fresh and as interesting as time will permit.

The historical input to the wargaming that gets featured here on the blog has always been an important aspect of the content, reflected in the book reviews and reports on historical places of interest that compliment our hobby.

Books reviewed in 2019

I have to admit to some other fictional reading invading my historical reading time this year but, between myself and Mr Steve, I like to think that the numbers of books reviewed is more than made up for by the quality of books included, that made for some easy titles to recommend.

In addition a lot of my reading time was devoted to identifying the key books I was planning to take with me to Spain and Portugal this year and that accompanied me on the trip securely packed in a plastic RUB to keep them safe and secure on the journey. All the books I used as reference are included on the relevant posts that I did covering that trip and include the two Peninsular War titles above that were new additions to my library.

Some of the places visited this year and posted about - Offas Dyke, Montgomery Castle, Shrewsbury, Berlin, Dorchester's Roman town house and the Cartagena gun battery in Spain.

Alongside the reading I was lucky to be able to take the time this year to visit some extraordinary places that were also posted about on the blog.

It was great fun to pick up where we left off in 2018 with my old mate Mr Steve joining me on two walks and journeys, one to Offas Dyke, the battlefields of Shrewsbury, Montgomery and Mortimer's Cross, as well as Montgomery Castle and the Welsh Marcher borderlands and another later in the year exploring parts of Dorset that included Hod Hill, Maiden Castle, and Dorchester.

In addition Carolyn and I took time exploring sites close to our home in Murcia including Roman and Carthaginian Cartagena and the Spanish Civil War naval gun batteries close to the city and later with a visit just last month to Berlin to see Will and the historic parts of this famous European capital.

Some of the stand out games I played this year - Battle of Pinhoe-Dux Bellorum, Chain of Command 'Let's Go' Campaign, Gettysburg First Day-Fire & Fury 2nd Ed., Target for Tonight Campaign, The Big Dux Bellorum at Wargames Foundry and Tom Ben and Will playing Augustus to Aurelian to finish the year off on a high.

Despite having my wargaming room out of commission, I was still able to indulge myself in some great games this year, attending all but one of the Devon Wargame Group club meetings and able to play in two campaigns, Chain of Command and Target for Tonight.

In addition I really enjoyed the Gettysburg game at another friends place, Steve L, playing the new version of Fire and Fury, and I finally got to game a local battle, the Battle of Pinhoe 1001 AD where I walked the battlefield and organised a Dux Bellorum refight at the DWG meeting in February.

Our regular trip to Partizan in May was accompanied by a big Dux Bellorum game at Wargames Foundry which was great fun, and it was a real treat to have Will, Tom and Ben playing Augustus to Aurelian on my table for the first time this year.

Shows attended in 2019

Another key aspect of the wargaming year is attending shows and reporting back on hopefully some of the best games in the hobby.

Although I attended fewer shows this year, much fun was had at the ones featured and it was great to be invited by the organisers of Salute to come and have a look at perhaps the flagship show in the hobby, after my last visit back in 2013.

It was a real treat to include interviews with some top notch traders such as Victrix, Battlefront, Oshiro Model Terrain and Warbases as well as being able to feature some great games and new products that have been launched since the show. The Salute team continue to do a first rate job in bringing a first rate show to the hobby.

Alongside Salute, I reported on Crusade, Colours and Partizan with some great games and other items featured, and also the Devon Wargames Group's very own showcase day in association with the Too Fat Lardies, 'Clotted Lard', that ran eight excellent games and raised £400 for the veterans charity Combat Stress.

Terrain started at the close of 2018

As far as my own hobby work this year, the work picked up from 2018 with important additions to my 28mm terrain collection with new trees, rivers, hills, breached fortress wall sections, and my Roman watch-tower as well as other scatter items

28mm Terrain Build started 2019

With the terrain items added, I turned my attention to adding enough troops to the Romano-Dacians to create two new divisions of four units plus commanders and casualties, before deciding to take a break from sandals, spears and shields with work on a collection I have long had in mind to start, namely my AWI Mohawk Valley collection.

The first half of 2019 continued the work with the Romano-Dacian collection with some major additions to my core collection

The really great thing about enjoying the painting and modelling side of the hobby is the fun in just picking up a new set of figures or models, putting them together, if required, and working out how to turn them from an interesting piece of metal or plastic into a recognisable addition to a new collection.

I think this year I have rediscovered some of that pure enjoyment of serendipity, after a long period of painting to a specific theme.

That said, discipline is required to get anywhere with the hobby and I don't foresee any other collections being started until major progress has been made with those currently on the go.

As mid-year approached I decided to refresh my pallet and start work on my 28mm AWI Mohawk Valley collection for Sharp Practice II

The ship modelling has been a great distraction and has refreshed my memory on skill sets I haven't used since working on my Langton collection of ships in the early nineties. I am planning to continue with these going into the new year so that I can try out some rule sets with this larger scale of model.

The launch of Warlord Games Black Seas range of 1:700th Age of Sail ships has rekindled my interest in this era and theme and work started on this new collection last month.

One this collection has reached the target for the number of ships to be built this year, I plan to turn my attention back to the AWI, before ending the year with some further additions to the Romano-Dacians.

Alongside the figure collections I am also planning to add yet more terrain items to keep the tables I am able to produce as interesting as possible.

Some of Mr Steve's travel posts from 2019 

One of the best aspects of wargaming is the friends you make in the hobby, many of whom stay with you for years, and I am really lucky to have made such friends who share a common interest and who make it fun to do.

My friend and blog correspondent Mr Steve is one such person and he has regularly contributed some great posts to JJ's Wargames over the years its been running, covering books and places he has visited that has added variety and insights and 2019 has been a 'bumper year' with some great reports ranging from the dark ages, the middle ages through to a follow up on our visit earlier this year to hear Ian Knight talking about the 140th anniversary of the Zulu War with a visit to the South Wales Borderers Regimental museum.

Ian Knight speaking at the National Army Museum earlier this year about the Zulu War and commemorating the 140th Anniversary.

Perhaps the standout hobby memories for me in 2019 are two events, both associated with my first love, the Peninsular War.

In January I was really happy to announce the result of two years work resulting in the publication of O'er the Hills, a scenario book designed around the Napoleonic rule set Over the Hills from Stand to Games.

O'er the Hill's Scenario Book - My first stand out memory for 2019

Thank you to everyone who supported the project, it was great fun to do, and  I hope it will provide some fun for those wanting to wargame this very interesting period in the Peninsular War.

Finally, perhaps as big a moment for me in 2019, was boarding the ferry at Portsmouth this summer to begin a three week holiday touring some of the key battlefield and sieges of the Peninsular War, that enabled me to walk in the footsteps of the veterans who fought it for real, and brought so many tabletop encounters to vivid reality when walking the actual ground.

My Peninsular War Battlefield Tour 2019 - A fantastic experience, made even better by being able to record it and share the memories here on JJ's Wargames with other like minds.

There we are, another year over and what a fantastic year, and definitely one to remember.

I have to say that the thought of retirement back in 2018 created ideas of so much time to do so many things, which had been put on hold for a lot of years. If this last eighteen months is to go by, there still isn't enough time in the day to get everything done and long may it remain so.

The hobby is the best it has ever been and I hope JJ's Wargames can make a small contribution to encouraging more and more people to get involved and join in the fun.

So with that in mind what are the plans for 2020 and a new decade?

As mentioned I am really keen to create a core collection around the 1:700th ships and I have a mind to take that collection into a major new project in the next few years, with a plan build that will see a continual addition to the collection.

Some of the new models awaiting some attention in 2020

Following that early work I will then return to the AWI collection as Sharp Practice will allow me to field games with a relatively small collection of figures with the added benefit of having terrain items for my ancient collection that will facilitate war in North America.

Of course I have some North American buildings and terrain items that I intend to add which will bring that theatre specific theme to the table.

Now the Romano-Dacians have a solid core to the collection I will add a few specific units later this year and aim to get some more games up and running before the end of it, and perhaps look to the new rules from the Too Fat Lardies 'Infamy' to try out with them.

In addition to the collections mentioned, I am halfway through a Target for Tonight campaign recreating the first month of the Battle of Berlin, and the next four games will be concluded at the Devon Wargames Group, starting next week with game five to be played.

We are creating a campaign module around the rules and will hopefully have something to share once the eight games have been played.

With regard to other key parts of JJ's Wargames, Mr Steve and I will continue to recommend good books to read and share our adventures on the walking path amid the riches of British history and some of the best pubs in the world.

In addition you can look forward to seeing the usual mix of show reports together with some of the best games to be seen in the hobby.

Finally the year will end with Carolyn and me taking a very long trip during which I will be looking to share some new adventures from the other side of the globe, but that is still in the planning stage and I look forward to sharing more about that in the New Year.

Speaking of which, may I wish everyone a very happy 2020 and all the best for a brand new decade ahead.

See you all on the other side, and looking forward to another year in the hobby


Sunday 29 December 2019

Augustus to Aurelian - River Crossing

Regular followers of the blog this year may have noticed a distinct lack of pictures of games played in the wargames room and other than a few pictures from my terrain building session in the first quarter of 2019, with my table covered in new terrain items being created on the covered table, the room has featured very little this year.

The main reason for this is that Chez JJ has been receiving some key home improvements that has meant my wargames table has been covered in all the boxes of figures and other associated wargaming materials that would have normally been stored in other parts of the house.

Thus with no table, no games have been played in the room for the best part of nine months and now with the build work completed in the week before Christmas Eve I was keen to recommission the room and table and get wargaming as normal.

The room is back in commission with the first game set up since a nine month layoff

What to play on the table, once things were tidied up was simple as both Will and Tom were keen to get in a game over the Christmas break with time off from University studies and apprenticeships and both opting for a game of Augustus to Aurelian (AtoA) with the Romano-Dacian collection.

The Romano-Dacians are back together with some of my new terrain created at the start of the year

More troops have been added to the collection since Will and I played with them over Christmas last year, with a division of Sarmatian cavalry, four units, added to compliment the now eight Dacian warbands, plus three Leigionary cohorts and an Auxilliary cohort added to the Romans.

The Sarmatian cavalry got to grace the table for their first outing

Thus I turned to the Hail Caesar Dacian War Campaign supplement and picked out the river crossing scenario and with adjustments made to the orders of battle together with the rules to better suit AtoA, I laid out the table as seen with the river dividing the opposing armies, each of three divisions, two infantry and one cavalry.

The Dacians are bolstered by the addition of three more warbands

To keep things interesting and uncertain, something AtoA offers in spades with its chit draw activation system, I also put out the unit cards for the three varieties of 'Untried', 'Experienced' and 'Hardened' options of units, as se in the first pictures, with the commanders dicing to see what kind of units they had in their army before play, keeping the result secret from the enemy.

A D10 was rolled for each unit with 1-2 = Untried, 3-9 = Experienced and 0 + Hardened.

In addition I allowed the Dacians to field two of the eight warbands as heavily falx armed versions and one of the cataphract units as 'Noble'.

 For the Romans the Praetorian Guard cavalry would only reveal its quality to both sides on first contact with the enemy, so leaving the Romans unsure as to how good they really were.

And the Romans are fielding four more Legionary and Auxiliaru cohorts

The dicing for quality left the two orders of battle looking thus;

1 x Falx Warband - Hardened
1 x Falx Warband - Untried
6 x Warbands - 1 x Hardened, 1 x Untried, 4 x Experienced
1 x Archers - Hardened
1 x Archers - Experienced
1 x Slingers - Untried
1 x Javelins Experienced

1 x Noble Cataphract - Experienced
1 x Cataphract - Experienced
1 x Horse Archers - Experienced
1 x Light Cavalry - Untried

Oh and I nearly forgot the German Auxiliary cavalry getting their first time out on the table

4 x Legionary Cohorts - Experienced
6 x Auxiliary Cohorts - 1 x Hardened, 1 x Untried, 4 x Experienced
1 x Auxiliary Archer Cohort - Experienced
1 x Slingers - Experienced
1 x Slingers - Untried
1 x Scorpio - Experienced
1 x Praetorian Guard Cavalry - Pseudo Guard (Good but not as good as they think they are)
1 x Auxiliary Ala - Experienced
1 x Auxiliary German Light Ala - Experienced
1 x Numidian Light Ala - Experienced

Two divisions, equating to eight Dacian warbands with supporting light troops make a formidable showing

The Dacians would set up first anywhere along the length of the river in their half of the table, then the Romans would set up within six inches of their table edge.

The Romans had 24 points of time to get six formed infantry or cavalry units, not skirmish infantry or cavalry, across onto the enemy side of the river at game end.

The Points system works by further varying the time the game will end by rolling a D6 at the end of a phase of play determined by two Meridiatio chits appearing, with the score deducted from the time points.

Thus the game could end anytime between four and twenty four phases of play, with each phase variable depending on how many units activated before the Meridiatio chits ended it.

In the end we played nine phases with some phases only wiping off one point and two phases costing five points.

The Roman line glowers at the enemy as the table awaits the commanders to take the field on the morrow

The final variable to our game was to include consulting the favour, or not, of the respective gods for the upcoming clash, by rolling a D6 with 1 indicating a very unfavourable set of goat entrails, whilst a 6 showed the finest looking goat liver this side of the Danubius.

Tom managed to roll a 1 twice, once outside of the dice tower and once in it so the Romans were penalised with a '-1' on all their reaction tests until they successfully passed one and reassured the rest of the army that Jupiter was only messing with their heads.

All set and ready to go

For our day of family fun we were joined by a wargaming 'Newbie', and classics scholar, Ben, who fancied joining Will in running out the forces of the Dacian King Decebalus and he and Will set up first with Tom adjusting his set up afterwards and opting to make a dash for the river with his cavalry, on seeing the Dacians hedge their bets as to which flank the Romans might go for, by deploying the Sarmatians in their rear-centre.

Our commanders for the day, Will (left) and Ben (centre) commanding the Dacians and Tom (right) commanding the Romans. The Roman cavalry nearest to camera on the Roman left with the Sarmatian cavalry in the rear-centre of the Dacian lines opposite.

With the fist moves played and Tom has made a bold advance on his left with the Roman cavalry advancing rapidly to get across the river as the Roman infantry division to their right closes up on the first bend in the river to be met by four Dacian warbands. The Sarmatian cavalry is galloping across the rear to contest the Roman cavalry advance.

The terrain was open on either side of the river with the few trees simply for decoration, with the principle terrain feature, the river, fordable across its length and offering a defender on its banks a positive combat modifier when counter-charging a struggling foe attempting to come across.

The light troops on both sides are the first to engage the enemy

Will and Ben were keen to get as close to the river as possible to ensure they had a chance of using its defensive qualities, but, not knowing exactly where the Romans would head for, set up centrally with the two divisions of warbands, keeping the more mobile cavalry in the central reserve ready to move out once they could see where the enemy were heading.

One potential problem when trying to hold a position with warbands is their propensity to go impetuous once Romans get within charge range and certainly when getting shot at by skirmishers, so Tom was aiming to try and provoke such a reaction where possible.

Massed ranks of Roman cavalry prepare to cross the river

The Romans had the advantage of setting up to take advantage, if they could, of the Dacian set up but with a limited time to get across would have to commit to their plan or risk running out of time.

As it proved this was the key factor that influenced the result.

The small red casualty die indicates the first hits are starting to occur

The Roman Auxiliary Light Infantry Cohort armed with composite bows move up ready to support their forward cohorts

Tom immediately identified the Roman left as offering the best chance of getting units across quickly, looking to march move (a double move of sixteen inches and not moving withing enemy charge range, ten to twelve inches) the cavalry to the extreme flank and thus get two of the six formed units across without having to fight first.

With their pilum marker still in play these legionaries still carry a volley of their formidable melee weapons

Following them up in march move were the first division of Roman cohorts with the hardened auxiliary cohort forming a combined unit with the archer cohort shooting overhead, smashing the warband sent to contest its crossing, soon to be followed by two legionary cohorts driving back the warbands opposing them.

Decebalus with his Carpe Diem chit still to hand watches the early Roman moves

The Dacian left moves up to the river bank with the Roman skirmishers content in trying to provoke a barbarian charge across it into the waiting cohorts

However this was the high point of the Roman advance as their cavalry were pounced on with accurate javelin and archery from the Sarmatian light cavalry which allowed the cataphracts to follow up and smash both the Praetorian and Auxiliary alas that were forced to fight individually due to the limited deployment space on the flank.

With two of the Roman formed units destroyed and just three over the river as the game entered the second half, Tom tried to get other units on to the river as quickly as possible to give him a chance of grabbing back the initiative.

Dacian slingers attempt to soften up the legionary lines as Trajan moves up to encourage the troops

Roman slingers start to cause casualties on the Dacian defenders

The Praetorian Guard lead the cavalry advance 

A mass of Dacians resist the goading legionaries and hold their line on the river bank

The Numidian and German light cavalry fell back to hold the river line they had so boldly advanced over, as one unit of cataphracts turned to support the hard pressed warbands.

The climax of the battle - The Romans in the centre have forced a crossing with two auxiliary cohorts and the legionaries to their left have just pushed the next warband off the river with a volley of pila and close in gladius work. However the Roman cavalry have been crushed by the Sarmatians with the German and Numidian light cavalry falling back behind the river to protect the flank and rear of their infantry. Casualties litter the field where the main fighting has occurred.

The Roman light cavalry struggle to hold back their Sarmatian opposites

The Roman auxiliaries closely supported in a combined formation by the archer cohort are victorious with Trajan on hand to witness the events

Turning to the second Roman division which had struggled to get forward without recourse to using Trajan to get them moving, as their commanders chit seemed to refuse to come out in normal play, they tramped towards the river only to find four fresh warbands glowering from the other bank.

The Dacian warband has managed to rally back after being driven off, but the Romans are pressing forward looking to expand their crossing

Not taking the bait of being goaded into charging and with time running out Tom sent a unit of auxiliary infantry over at the charge, lobbing javelin as they went and causing a couple of casualties.

However only managing to cause one hit in the hand to hand combat that followed, the Roman unit recoiled as it was met by the hardened falx warband that clouted it with four hits and forced it back from whence it had come.

Meanwhile of the Roman right the refused flank has now closed on the river, but perhaps a little too slowly

The Dacians mass to oppose a Roman advance on their left flank as the fighting reaches a crescendo further up river

The Dacian archers are running and the warband to their left have just rallied but are badly disordered after losing the fight on the river

The victorious Sarmatian cataphracts come over to help the Dacian infantry in their struggle with the legionaries, weighed down with the heads of Praetorian guardsmen strapped to their bridles

The Romans make a last final push to try and snatch a victory as the game threatens to end before they can seal a win

The Dacian left is comparatively tranquil as the focus falls elsewhere in the closing stages

Suddenly the last Meridiatio chit had been drawn as the roll of the dice declared the Romans had run out of time and with just three units across on the other side the game ended in favour of the Dacians.

An Auxiliary cohort charges towards the opposite bank only to be met by a 'Hardened' Falx wielding warband that smashes it in the first round of combat

On reflection Tom decided he would have dispensed with the Duplex Acies deployment he opted for and would have closed up to bring more of his infantry closer to one point of attack and possibly to have used his advantage in Carpe Diem chits to have got both his divisions of infantry up more quickly.

That said the first attacks by the Romans were extremely effective and as usual the pila attacks hurt warbands .

The combined auxiliary cohorts were also very effective with the overhead shooting a useful tactic on the attack.

The legionaries have more success driving back their opposite numbers, but its not enough!

The Sarmatians mop up on the scene of their ambush giving no mercy to wounded Romans trying to get back to the river

AtoA gave a great game with lots of unpredictability that combined with the variable length phases and turns added pressure to the commanders to make decisions and back them and with only one Carpe Diem chit for the Dacians and two for the Romans meant that the commanders were very reluctant to throw that control away frivolously.

A good game and a fun scenario to end the year on and it was nice to have the table back in action.

Thanks to Tom, Will and Ben for a very fun day