Saturday, February 21, 2015

Little Bites

In an effort to keep posting despite being addicted to long, rambling blog posts, I'm trying to add a few brief updates about various goings on that I might omit altogether or wait until I get a big postful of content to bury it in. So, rather than a big blog meal, here are a few little bites, nibbles, if you will:

After many days...

As it says in Ecclesiastes 11:1, "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days." Some time last year (August maybe) I cast my bread upon the waters and ordered some of the Tékumel Club's figures. I had just finished M.A.R. Barker's The Man of Gold and was eager to get a few Tékumel figures to paint.

Some of the figures I ordered were still in progress and imminently to be released; others were available right then. I opted to wait until everything was ready before having any of it sent, but production problems meant that the imminent release was less imminent than was thought. The figures needed to be re-sculpted and re-cast. Tékumel Club is a small, one-man operation, so things can take time. Production for the ones in progress appears to be still ongoing, but Howard Fielding (Mr. Tékumel Club himself) sent me the others separately. Quite by surprise, I found them on my doorstep one day, like little foundlings.

The figures that came were two war bands of the Aridáni Legion of Lady Mríssa. (Pix below are from the Tékumel Project blog.)

The Lady Mríssa herself
They're very nice figures. Tall-ish 28s, but on the slender side—though to be fair, these are winsome women warriors and not likely to be hulking.

Trooper standing with hand open for spear
The detail is very well executed and I'm looking forward to get started on them this weekend.

Officer with Sword
I also found a good guide to painting them online, although it differs a bit from the official painting guide published by M.A.R. Barker in the 80s. I'll go with this because it's visual.

What to do with them? I don't see myself painting armies of Tékumel. I do see, maybe, another Lion Rampant variant...

First Blossoms

I ordered some Front Rank Wars of the Roses foot men at arms last year without really knowing what to do with them. (I do that often, which is why I have so much unpainted lead and orphaned projects.)

I bought them before Lion Rampant was released, so now I'm working towards painting them for that. I'll probably do a retinue for The Earl of Northumberland (Percy), a Lancastrian.

Anyway, I completed the first Lion Rampant unit of six foot men at arms this week!

They turned out to my liking, except for the eyes. I swore I wouldn't paint eyes for any figure smaller then 40mm, but I can't help myself. Even wee figures look like moles if you don't do something for the eyes.

Who turned out the lights?
But my feeble attempt to do eyes always results in the Marty Feldman effect.

I still only have foot men at arms on hand. I have to order more figures to get the archers, billmen, and what-not to complete the retinue. In the meantime, I have plenty of Old Glory medievals primed and ready to roll to complete a retinue for Lion Rampant. I'm probably going to make them Flemish in honor of the brave men of Courtrai.

Somebody Stop Me

I was innocently blundering through the aisles of my local Safeway store last week (that's typically how I shop) when I fell upon a box of frozen microwaveable White Castle cheeseburgers. Having lived in Chicago, I knew White Castle from of old. Gourmet, they are not. However, they are an addictive taste sensation.

I picked up a box of 16. They come like Twinkies in a two-pack. Zapped for 1 minute in the microwave, they come out hot and melty with a soft wee bun. At a White Castle, you buy 'em by the bag and you can easily down half a dozen in one sitting. I ate them four at a time and the box was empty in two days.

I just picked up another box today and ate six of my 16 while writing this post. (The cats were locked out of the room lest they try to get at them.) I had hoped so much for starting better eating habits, but I hadn't counted on this...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Crepusculum Imperii: Adapting Lion Rampant to the Late Roman period

As I related in an earlier post, I've been considering what to do with my 3rd c. Romans. They've languished in a box for ever so long and it's time I did something with them. Though what to do is still an inchoate notion, but the leading contender is to adapt them to Daniel Mersey's Lion Rampant skirmish rules. This solution would keep my army at home, which is a good thing. I've been getting back into the period more and recently purchased a new book on the 3rd c. Roman army, Paul Elliot's Legions in Crisis.

So, to get the project rolling, I need to revisit Mersey's unit profiles and retrofit troops types from the later Roman to early Byzantine period, basically 3rd c. to 5th c., to Lion Rampant.

The Lion Rampant (LR) rules are what I've elsewhere defined as "false skirmish" rules. That means that although the figures are based singly, they function in groups/units rather than as individual figures. It is, however, possible to have some mixed-weapon units, so the later Roman practice of backing up legionarii with archers can be represented.

I found while going through the unit profiles, that a lot of what I thought I'd need to invent was already there as an option. But I did need to invent a few things. I added a special rule for pilum because it was intrinsic to Roman legionary tactics to heave a pilum in your opponent's face just before contact. Even after the pilum was replaced by a long spear (hasta), Roman soldiers used the plumbata (or martiobarbulum) as an effective pre-contact hand-hurled missile.

Not as nasty as a pilum, but it will still ruin your day
I'm not sure if the pilum rule will prove too powerful, or if I need to up the points for the unit. It's already at 6 points, which is as much as mounted men at arms in LR. We'll have to test it and see. I made the shooting 6+/6, so it wouldn't be too powerful. The upgrade to include archers, just extends the range to 12" for a cost of one point. I also added shield-wall as a special rule. For this I pretty much took the shiltron rule, but allowed the +1 armor to apply against shooting as well.

I also had to define some unit profiles for things that aren't there in LR, such as the Sassanid Asvārān and the war elephants. The former is a kind of mash-up between mounted men at arms and horse archers. The latter is, so far, just a guess.

The following profiles give each unit type along with some guidelines for which armies you'd find them in. It's not exhaustive and I used the figures I actually have (painted or not) as guidelines into what I should include.

The Sassanids overthrew the Parthians in the early 3rd c. and pretty much took over their space and continued their role as Rome's #1 pain in the tuchis in the east and continued in that role into the Byzantine period until the Arab conquests wiped them out in the 7th c. Germanic is pretty much a catch-all for everything nasty on the other side of the Rhine and above the Danube. In this period the Goths and Alemanni were the main problems, but Franks and Saxons get into it later on. The Palmyrans were Rome's best ally in the east until Zenobia thought she could snatch it all away for herself. Aurelian had to go and take it back and put Zenobia in chains.

Well, shoot. That didn't go so well...
Sarmatians were around for a long time and lasted into the 4th c., mostly acting along with Germanic tribes. Trajan depicts their cataphracts on his column. Huns come onto the scene in the 4th c. and make a real nuisance later in the 5th. Romans gave way to Byzantines in the eastern empire by the 5th c. In Britain, the Picts north of Hardian's Wall were a menace and remained on the scene after the Romans were gone until the Scots supplanted them.

Mounted units

Cataphracts (Roman, Sassanid, Palmyran, Byzantine, Sarmatian)
Cataphracts are fully armored horsemen decked out cap-à-pie in mail, scale, or horn armor, and mounted on horses similarly protected. Cataphracts are typically armed with a kind of lance called a kontos (a Greek word that literally means "barge pole"), although some cataphracts might carry a club, too.

Cataphracts mostly correspond to mounted men at arms in LR. However, I think they would be slower and less enthusiastic, so I've lowered their courage, attack, and attack value. Cataphracts were envisioned back in Seleucid days as a mounted phalanx whose full protection made them pretty impervious to fire. I took away the wild charge special rule, too. Cataphracts didn't use a wild charge (or even a tame one, really) because their attack relied on cohesion, a tight formation, and a bristling phalanx of "barge poles."

Unit Name: Cataphracts Points: 6
Attack 6+ Attack Value 4+
Move 7+ Defence Value 5+
Shoot - Shoot Value -
Courage 4+ Max. Movement 8"
Armor 4 Special Rules Counter-charge
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Counter-charge: Same as in the LR rules.
The armored wall on hooves

Asvārān (Sassanid)
Asvārān are armored cavalry who are primarily armed with a bow, but might also include a kontos. The riders are typically armored like cataphracts, but the horses would be less well armored, even unarmored. The Sassanids used these troops as mounted archers who shot en masse rather than as skirmishers.

Asvārān mostly correspond to mounted sergeants armed with bows. I also give them a "4" armor to account for the near-cataphract nature of their protection, but I reduce their move to 10" maximum to account for being heavier than normal horse. I've also made their attack 7+ and attack value 5+ to account for the fact that they were not primarily intended as shock troops.

Unit Name: Asvārān Points: 4
Attack 7+ Attack Value 5+
Move 7+ Defense Value 5+
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value 5+ / 12"
Courage 4+ Max. Movement 10"
Armor 4 Special Rules Counter-charge
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Counter-charge: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Kontos @ 2pts. per unit: Asvārān can be additionally armed with the kontos. Increase their attack to 6+ and their attack value to 4+.

Equites/noble horsemen (Roman, Germanic, Huns)
Equites are the standard armored cavalry. They can be line of battle cavalry, but they tended to be used as much for skirmishing as for shock. The riders typically wear chain, scale, or horn armor and might also be protected by a shield and helmet. The horses are unarmored. Weapons would be a sword, shield, and a short spear. Javelins might also be carried, giving the units a shirt-range missile option.

Equites/noble horsemen basically correspond to mounted sergeants in LR, but with the option of having javelins.

Unit Name: Equites Points: 4
Attack 5+ Attack Value 5+
Move 5+ Defense Value 5+
Shoot - Shoot Value -
Courage 4+ Max. Movement 10"
Armor 3 Special Rules Counter-charge
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Counter-charge: Same as in the LR rules.

Light horse (Roman, Sassanid, Palmyran, Byzantine, Scythian, Huns)
Light horsemen have no significant armor protection. They rely on speed and shooting as their main tactics/weapons. Not good in hand to hand combat, but can easily harass and inflict loss on foot and slower horse.

Horse archers correspond to mounted yeomen in LR, but with less armor.

Unit Name: Light horse Points: 3
Attack 7+ Attack Value 5+
Move 5+ Defense Value 6
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value 5+ / 12"
Courage 5+ Max. Movement 12"
Armor 2 Special Rules Skirmish; Evade
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Skirmish: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Evade: Same as in LR rules.
  • Javelins only @ -1 per unit: Reduce shooting range to 6".
  • Expert @ 2pts. per unit: Skirmish without the -1 shooting penalty.

Horsemen (Romans, Byzantines, Germanic, Huns)
These are the general mass of unarmored (or poorly armored) horsemen that were typically found in Germanic armies, like the Goths, Alemanni, etc. They could also be found as poorly armored equites in Roman/Byzantine armies.

These troops correspond to mounted yeoman in LR.

Unit Name: HorsemenPoints: 3
Attack7+Attack Value5+
Move5+Defense Value6
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage5+Max. Movement12"
Armor2Special RulesCounter-charge
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Counter-charge: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Javelins @ 1pts. per unit: Shoot at 6+ with shooting value / range of 5+ / 6".

War elephants (Sassanid)
War elephants were used by Sassanid armies throughout the period. They could be as much a danger to their own side as to the enemy.

They don't conform to anything in LR, so I've made up what I think makes sense for elephants.

Unit Name: War elephantsPoints: 8
Attack7+Attack Value3
Move7+Defence Value4+
Shoot6+Shoot Value6 / 12"
Courage5+Max. Movement8"
Armor4Special RulesHard to kill; Berserk; Smelly
  • Models per unit: 1
Special rules:
  • Hard to kill: Although only represented by 1 model, an elephant unit can take 6 hits before it disappears.
  • Berserk: When an elephant fails a courage test with a result that is less than 0, instead of fleeing in rout, it goes berserk and attacks friend or foe, whoever is in its path. Immediately roll a D6 and determine the direction as follows: 1=forward, 2=60° right, 3=120° right, 4=180° (rear), 5=120° left, 6=60° left. (It's basically going clock-wise by 60° increments.) Move the model a full 8" move in the direction indicated. If the move results in contact with any unit, whether friend or foe, conduct an an immediate attack. Every turn after, continue to roll for direction, move, and conduct any attacks until the elephant is dead or has moved off the table.
  • Smelly: Elephants are terrifying to horses. Horse=mounted troops may not attack elephants. If elephants attack horse-mounted, the horse-mounted may not counter-charge. Horse-mounted troops in combat with elephants have a -1 to their defense value.

Dromedarii (Roman, Parthian, Palmyran)
Dromedarii are camel-mounted troops who were used mainly for scouting in the desert areas of Syria and the border-lands of the Parthian and Sassanid empires.

Like elephants, these really have no corresponding troop type in LR, so I'm winging it.

Unit Name: DromedariiPoints: 3
Attack7+Attack Value6
Move5+Defence Value6
Shoot6+Shoot Value6 / 6"
Courage5+Max. Movement10"
Armor2Special RulesSpitters
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Spitters: Horses didn't like camels any better than elephants. The stink and strangeness spooked them—not to mention the awful spitting. Horse-mounted troops in combat with camels have a -1 penalty to their attack value and defense value.

Cataphract camels (Parthian, Palmyran)
Cataphract camels—armored men and armored camels—were a rare thing, but might be fielded by Parthians and Palmyras.

Like elephants and dromedarii (the lesser camels), these really have no corresponding troop type in LR, so I'm winging it.

Unit Name: Cataphract camelsPoints: 6
Attack6+Attack Value4+
Move6+Defence Value5+
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage4+Max. Movement8"
Armor4Special RulesSpitters
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Spitters: Horses didn't like camels any better than elephants. The stink and strangeness spooked them—not to mention the awful spitting. Horse-mounted troops in combat with camels have a -1 penalty to their attack value and defense value.

Foot units

Legionarii (Roman)
These are the classic heavy infantry of the Roman army. Typically well armored, well armed, and well disciplined. They might be armed with short range missile weapons, such as the pilum (until the late 3rd c.), javelins, and plumbatae. From the late 3rd c. on, these would have a long spear and spatha rather than the classic sword and pilum. Shields are large and legionarii can form shield wall.

These troops correspond mostly to foot sergeants, but with better courage and short-range missile ability.

Unit Name: Legionarii Points: 6
Attack 6+ Attack Value 5+
Move 5+ Defence Value 4+
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value 6 / 6"
Courage 3+ Max. Movement 6"
Armor 3 Special Rules Shield-wall; Pilum
  • Models per unit: 12
Special rules:
  • Pilum: The unit can attempt shoot, using pila, javelins, or plumbatae, before resolving attack combat, whether they are attacking or defending. Roll for shooting as normal. Losses due to pre-combat shooting count towards resolving the outcome of the attack, when comparing losses.
  • Shield-wall: On a Move order, unit forms in two ranks with bases touching. Cannot form in rough terrain or in cover. Adds +1 armor against attacks and shooting. Must be at least 6 figures remaining in the unit. Cannot move in this position. If a combat ends with the attacker still in contact, the attacker must retreat. If the unit becomes battered in this formation, the shield-wall formation is lost.
  • Mixed weapons @ 1pts. per unit: The unit has archers mixed into the formation (typically in later 3rd c. onwards). Shooting is still 6+ with a shooting value of 6, but range is extended to 12". Does not negate shield-wall or pilum.

Auxilia (Romans, Palmyrans)
These are typically lighter troops than the legionarii, but they could be as well armed and armored. The difference was typically in how they were employed.

Unit Name: Auxilia Points: 4
Attack 6+ Attack Value 5+
Move 5+ Defence Value 4+
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value 6 / 6"
Courage 4+ Max. Movement 8"
Armor 2 Special Rules Shield-wall;
Fleet footed
  • Models per unit: 12
Special rules:
  • Shield-wall: On a Move order, unit forms in two ranks with bases touching. Cannot form in rough terrain or in cover. Adds +1 armor against attacks and shooting. Must be at least 6 figures remaining in the unit. Cannot move in this position. If a combat ends with the attacker still in contact, the attacker must retreat. If the unit becomes battered in this formation, the shield-wall formation is lost.
  • Fleet footed: Same as in LR rules.
  • Mixed weapons @ 1pts per unit: The unit has archers mixed into the formation (typically in later 3rd c. onwards). Shooting is still 6+ with a shooting value of 6, but range is extended to 12". Does not negate shield-wall.
  • Armored @ 1pts. per unit: Increase armor to 3, decrease max. movemet to 6".

Archers (Roman, Byzantine, Germanic, Palmyran)
Missile troops are any foot units that form mostly in mass and shoot weapons like bows and crossbows. They are not skirmishers.

Archers correspond to the same type in LR.

Unit Name: Missile troops Points: 4
Attack 7+ Attack Value 6
Move 6+ Defence Value 5+
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value 5+ / 18"
Courage 4+ Max. Movement 6"
Armor 2 Special Rules -
  • Models per unit: 12
  • Armored @ 2pts. per unit: Increase the armor value to 3.
  • Elite shooters @ 2pts. per unit: Increase the shoot to 5+ and the shooting value to 4+.

Levy infantry (Sassanid)
Despite their reputation, these troops were a bit more than the sweepings of the gaols and taverns they're made out to be—but not too much more. In Sassanid armies that were predominantly mounted, levy infantry formed a solid base to hold a position that the horsemen could rally on.

Unit Name: Levy infantry Points: 3
Attack 7+ Attack Value 6
Move 6+ Defence Value 5+
Shoot - Shoot Value -
Courage 4+ Max. Movement 6"
Armor 4 Special Rules Schiltron
  • Models per unit: 12
Special rules:
  • Schiltron: The same as in the LR rules.

Warriors (Germanic, Pictish)
The mass of Gothic, Alemannic, Saxon, etc. forces relied on a fierce charge of massed infantry. Not well protected, though leaders might have armor.

Warriors correspond to fierce foot in LR.

Unit Name: WarriorsPoints: 4
Attack5+Attack Value3+
Move6+Defence Value6
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage4+Max. Movement8"
Armor2Special RulesFerocious; Wild charge; Counter-charge vs. foot;
Fleet footed
  • Models per unit: 12
Special rules:
  • Ferocious: The same as in the LR rules.
  • Wild charge: The same as in the LR rules.
  • Counter-charge: The same as in the LR rules.
  • Fleet-footed: The same as in the LR rules.

Foot skirmishers (Roman, Byzantine, Sassanid, Germanic, Pictish, Palmyran, Parthian)
Foot skirmishers are javelin men, slingers, skirmishing bowmen (rather than massed bow-shooters). These troops kept their distance and harassed the enemy, avoiding close combat.

Foot skirmishers correspond to bidders in the LR rules.

Unit Name: Foot skirmishersPoints: 2
Attack7+Attack Value6
Move5+Defence Value6
Shoot5+Shoot Value5+ / 12"
Courage4+Max. Movement8"
Armor1Special RulesHard to target; Skirmish; Evade;
Fleet footed
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Hard to target: The same as in the LR rules.
  • Skirmish: The same as in the LR rules.
  • Evade: The same as in the LR rules.
  • Fleet-footed: The same as in the LR rules.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

KGC Blitz: Adapting PanzerBlitz situations to miniatures

I played my first game of Avalon Hill's PanzerBlitz when I was a lad of 10. My friend Richard's older brother went off to the army in 1970 leaving behind his brand-new copy of the just-released game. For Richard and me, being the kind of boys who liked tanks 'n' stuff, PanzerBlitz was nirvana. The counters had silhouettes representing specific tanks: T-34s, SU-100s, Panzer IVsTigers. For boys who liked tanks 'n' stuff, Tiger tanks were the apogee of our enthusiasm. A game of tactical armored combat on the Eastern Front 1941-45, could it get better than this? Even the box art was cool.

I played PanzerBlitz with Richard for the next year until he moved away, taking his copy of PanzerBlitz with him (but he left me his dog, Sparky, who was with us for the next 14 years). I got my own copy of the game, the revised 1971 edition, and continued to play it with other friends for years after that. Of the many games from my youth, few remain. Pride of place for those is my much-worn copy of PanzerBlitz. I even bought two more copies on eBay. One of which is the 1970 first printing with the glossy colored reverse sides of the counters: black for Germans and red for Russians.

All these years later—despite some glaring design flaws, such as "PanzerBush"—PanzerBlitz remains one of my favorite games even though it's been more than 30 years since I last played it with someone. (Also, you can easily adopt the opportunity fire and spotting rules from Avalon Hill's later games Panzer Leader and The Arab-Israeli Wars to fix the design flaws.)

Fast forward to now. I game with a group of people at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. One of the games we've play a lot is Kampfgruppe Commander II (KGC) using 15mm models and figures. KGC is a later development of the evolutionary strain of tactical WW2 rules that started with the "standard unit" concept in Wargamer's Digest magazine in the 1970s. WD had some rules in mind that never got published, but the standard unit concept was best exemplified in Frank Chadwick's Command Decision (CD) from 1986. Unlike most earlier WW2 rules, CD doesn't represent the tanks, guns, and troops at 1:1. In CD, each gun and tank model represents a platoon-sized unit (the standard unit). Infantry, mounted three to a base, also represent platoons. This is pretty much the same representation used for PanzerBlitz, except that in PanzerBlitz Russians units are company sized.

KGC uses the same representation as CD with the exception that Russian units are represented one level up to account for the smaller size of Russian platoons and the lower degree of tactical flexibility of Russian forces. For example, in CD the basic maneuver element for Russians is a company represented by two tank models or two stands of infantry. In KGC, the basic Russian maneuver element is a battalion of four tank models or four stands of infantry. In addition, mortar batteries and machine-gun companies attached to Russian infantry battalions are not represented as separate units, but just factored into the infantry fire value (at just +1 for all range bands). This difference matters for the conversion, as I'll address below.

Because the representational scale of KGC and PanzerBlitz are so similar, it naturally occurred to me that adapting PanzerBlitz to KGC would make for some good game scenarios. PanzerBlitz has 12 "situations" that represent distinct actions involving forces that could equal several battalions in size. My thinking has been that the situations in PanzerBlitz can be mined to create interesting scenarios for KGC.

In miniature gaming, being free-form in structure, scenarios are the key to enjoyment. Most of our KGC games have involved large forces in set-piece battles, such as the attack/defense of a position. We've played several games set in Normandy with scenarios drawn from Operation EpsomMonty had pretty much all the tactical finesse of Douglas Haig and the Normandy battles in June-July 1944 were about as close to the Battle of the Somme as any other WW2 battles ever came (except maybe Kursk): a terrible expenditure of blood for gains measured in yards. The gist being that even though our games are played on a 60 sq. ft. table, the focus mostly comes down to an area about 12 sq. ft. where one side is advancing against an objective and moves forward no more than about 24" during an afternoon of gaming. What I want to do is get to games that involve smaller forces that allow greater flow. My whole PanzerBlitz adaptation idea, which has been kicking around in my brain for some years, is now a catalyst for this goal.

Conversion issues
Adapting the PanzerBlitz scenarios is not without its snags, however. There are several conversion issues that need to be addressed and some trial-and-error to go through in order to get things right.

One of the first conversion issues to address is the how the game boards in PanzerBlitz can be recreated on the tabletop. We use the extended scale in KGC, which comes to one inch = 66 yards (or 1.5" = 100 yards). In PanzerBlitz, one hex represents 250 meters (flat to flat). The conversion is that every hex is 4" on the tabletop. The three boards in PanzerBlitz are geomorphic. One board comes out to a table space of 3.4' x 10.8'. Most configurations in the PanzerBlitz situations require 10.2' x 10.8' of table space, which is about 40 sq. ft. larger than the space we typically use. In some situations, the board configuration is end on end, which means that we need a table that is 3.4' wide by 32.6' long. We don't have that kind of room.

Instead, we use tables that are 5' x 10' or 6' x 8'. (6' is the maximum width practically possible. The 3' stretch to get to the middle of the table is a strain as it is, given the middle-aged bellies we all sport.) To design the table space, you have to look at the configuration for a given situation and then mark out the salient features to use. This requires an elastic interpretation of the mapboard features. Some things have to be thrown out or morphed with other features. In short, the mapboard configuration should be an inspiration for the tabletop layout rather than a template to be followed exactly.

If you don't want to be inspired on a situation-by-situation basis, you can design modular tabletop sections based on the three boards and then configure them for the scenarios.

Unit sizes

German units translate very well at 1 counter from PanzerBlitz equals one tank model, gun model, or stand of infantry. Russian tank and infantry counters in PanzerBlitz represent companies for the same reasons mentioned above, although gun counters still represent a single battery, just like the Germans. The problem for converting Russian counters to KGC units, if you use the KGC organization for Russians, is that you wind up with four tank models or infantry stands for every three PanzerBlitz counters, which greatly reduces the effectiveness of a Russian force. In addition, because Russian battalions abstract battalion mortars, you need to leave off the Russian mortars when you convert. This significantly reduces the firepower of the Russian side.

It also poses a problem for Russian formations. A PanzerBlitz situation that calls for nine counters of Russian rifles, which is typical, equates to a Soviet rifle regiment. In KGC organization, that's a single formation of three four-stand infantry units plus regimental assets like a 45mm AT gun, 76mm infantry gun, and the regimental 120mm mortar battery. This organization puts too many eggs in one basket.

In KGC, a unit is 1 to 4 stands. A formation is 1 to 4 units. All the units of a formation need to stay within the command radius of the formation commander (8" to 15"). When a unit is attacked, a failed morale result can effectively put that unit out of action for a few turns, meaning that multiple stands are affected. The command/control structure in KGC is in stark contrast to PanzerBlitz where any counter can act independently and is usually attacked separately.

Adopting the CD organization for the Russians, addresses some of this issue. With the CD organization, the rifle regiment (represented by nine counters in PanzerBlitz) is now three formations. Each formation is three units of two rifle stands, plus MG assets, and an 82-mm mortar unit. Also, the regimental assets can be made available. The result is more tactical flexibility, more resilience, and more firepower.

The scenarios in PanzerBlitz are the main reason I got interested in the project. However, most scenarios provide a challenge when it comes to converting them to KGC. The forces for each side often come down to a collection of unit counters that don't conform to historical TO&Es. This is especially true for the Germans.

In most PanzerBlitz situations, the Russian forces conform pretty well to historical TO&Es and usually fit nicely into KGC formations. For example, in Situation 6, the Russians have the following:

Using the CD organization for the Russians, this works out pretty easily to,
  • Four battalions of T-34cs (three two-stand units in each)
  • Two SMG battalions (three two-stand units in each, plus an MG asset per battalion)
  • A two-company recon infantry battalion (or split up into four recon infantry assets)
  • Two batteries of 45mm AT guns (or two assets assigned to the SMG battalions)
  • A tank destroyer regiment of SU-85s (two two-stand units)
  • An assault gun regiment of SU-152s (two two-stand units)
  • Two batteries on 76.2mm "crash-boom" guns (or used as off-board artillery)
For the same situation, the Germans have the following:

This is a hodge-podge and nothing translates easily to KGC formations. However, it was typical for the Germans to use kampfgruppe in many situations rather than the regulation TO&Es. To make sense of the situation's forces, you have to create ersatz formations with the mix you have. For example, you could give the Germans the following:
  • A panzer kampfgruppe with a two-stand PzIV company and a one-stand Panther company
  • An infantry kampfgruppe with one three-stand infantry company and a 120mm mortar (you could also add an MG asset)
  • An antitank kampfgruppe with two 75mm Pak 40 batteries and a single Jagdpanzer IV stand
  • A Flak panzergruppe with an 88mm battery and a quad 20mm battery
  • Wespe and Hummel as off-board artillery batteries
Of course, the question is whether this provides adequate play balance.

Historical inaccuracies
The situations in PanzerBlitz are genericized scenarios based on historical actions adapted to a somewhat fixed mapboard using a limited counter set. There are bound to be inaccuracies. The game is said to represent the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1945, but the situations mostly fall into the range of mid-1943 to mid-1944. As you research the situations—being an adult boy who likes tanks 'n' stuff with access to a lot more data—you realize that the game designers fudged a lot.

For example, Situation 10 is Prokhorovka, the climactic armor clash of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in the southern salient at Kursk in July 1943. The Germans have a lot of Panzer IVHs and Panthers. In fact, the SS panzer troops had no Panthers at Kursk and the mainstay of their tank strength was the Panzer IIIN. In the same situation, the Soviets have SU-85s, which weren't available until later in 1943. In other situations, the Soviets have T-34/85s and the Germans have Jagdpanzer IV/L70s in 1943 scenarios, when neither of these AFVs were available at the time.

For any situation, you have to clean up the innacuracies, which may mean replacing some units with others that match the time frame or historical organization better.

Rules systems and play balance
Of course the rules systems also play a part in balancing the games. Between PanzerBlitz and KGC, the play balance of units is different. PanzerBlitz uses basic factors for attack and defense strengths, which are modified according to the rules' Weapons Effectiveness Chart. KGC uses to-hit and armor penetration values at various ranges and an AFV's defense against antitank fire is based on its armor value. In some cases, this means that some tanks are nearly invulnerable to some AT guns and some tank vs. tank encounters can be wildly lopsided despite a great numerical disparity.

For example, the Panther was probably the best AFV of WW2 (it says so in the designers notes for PanzerBlitz). The 75/L70 gun could slice through the best Soviet armor and the Panther's armor could bounce most shots from Soviet 76.2mm and 85mm AT guns except at close range.

In PanzerBlitz, the Panther has an attack value of 16 and a defense value of 12. The T-34c has an attack value of 12 and a defense of 9. This means that at a six-hex range, three T-34c counters firing together at a Panther counter have a 3:1 attack, which has a good chance of disrupting or destroying the Panther.

In KGC, it's not that easy. At the same range band (6 hexes = 24"), the 76/L42 gun of the T-34c has a 20% chance to even hit. The KGC equivalent of the three counters would be four stands, using KGC organization, or six stands, using CD organization. This means either four D10s or six D10s needing "2s" to hit. One hit may be possible, two lucky, three luckier, and four or more highly unlikely. But the number of hits is just a start. The penetration value of the 76/L42 at 24" range is a 6. The Panther's frontal armor value is 14. This is no penetration; however, KGC still gives any attacker a long-shot chance by making the maximum defense roll a "9." So, any unmodified defense roll of "10" counts as a hit. (I've grumbled about that a few times.)

By comparison, in KGC, the 75/L70 gun of the Panther has a 50% chance to hit and a 13 penetration value at the 24" range band. Against the T-34c's frontal armor of 9, this is an automatic penetration (no defense roll). In fact, even at the Panther's maximum range of 36", any hit is an automatic penetration against a T-34c.

All this means that in KGC, a single Panther has a good chance of standing off an entire battalion of T-34s, but not so much in PanzerBlitz. In some PanzerBlitz situations, there are up to 12 Panthers. In KGC, a force like that is nearly invincible.

As you convert the forces in any PanzerBlitz scenario, you may think there will be a huge disparity in numbers against one side or the other (though usually in favor of the Russians). You can address this disparity with the formation ratings, something that KGC advertises as one of it's strengths.

This is one of the many draft blog posts I've had languishing for a long while in cyber-limbo. I had to post this because I spent so much time on it and I'd hate to see it never see the light of the Interwebs. It still has relevance to WW2 gaming on an operational scale; however, I must disclose that I sold off all my painted 15mm WW2 minis at Enfilade! 2014. I can't say that I regret having done it, but it makes completing and posting this article a bit poignant.

I still have a lot of unpainted figures (as in a lot) and models in boxes. If I don't sell them, there's a chance I'll revisit KGC or some other operational-level rules set, like Battlegoup Panzergrenadier from Partizan Press. I've had a copy for many years, though I've only played them once. There is also a second edition out. BGPG may make some of the scenario translation issues easier. I could also just bathtub the scenarios and do a 1:1 translation of units for stands for something like BGPG or Crossfire.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Restitutor Orbis: Rethinking My 3rd c. Romans

Back somewhere in the dawn of time (2005, I think), I started a 28mm ancients project with Kevin Smyth in an attempt to get some WRG ancients play going. Kevin and I managed to have a few games and Bill Stewart and I ran a few games also in 2010, but it never caught on (alas) and my predilection for the WRG rules has caused the local gentry to regarded me as being dangerously insane.

I had been painting some of the excellent 28mm A&A 3rd century Romans. I also have a bucket o' unpainted A&A Sassanid Persians. The project has languished for quite a while. Kevin long since sold off the army he painted for the project. I attempted to do the same with mine at our recent Drumbeat event, but I got no buyers. I'm starting to see that as a good thing and I'm wondering what next to do to restore the world of my Middle Imperial Romans.

Why the 3rd century?

The 3rd century is an intriguing period. It's the background of Harry Sidebottom's excellent Warrior of Rome series and his new Throne of the Caesars series. Rome fought pretty much everyone in this period, especially itself, as rival emperors and break-away allies caused all kinds of trouble. The empire neared collapse and might have broken up except for the brief, but salutary, efforts of Aurelian.

Like most of his predecessors, Aurelian was murdered. A corrupt official, fearing retribution, used forged documents to snooker some officers of the Praetorian Guard to kill him in 275. He may have been briefly succeeded by his wife, Ulpia Severina. In any case, the Senate put Tacitus on the throne, but a year later, Tacitus went crazy and died (or was assassinated—or went crazy and was assassinated) and Florianus came to the throne; in a matter of months, Florianus was murdered by his own troops and Probus became emperor; Probus hung on to the crown for six years, but then he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard and the army proclaimed Carus emperor; Carus was, apparently, struck by lightning within a year and succeeded by his brother Numerian; Numerian was assassinated and succeeded by Carinus, who was Carus' son. There wasn't a lot of job security in wearing the purple. Finally, in 284, Carinus was defeated and killed by Diocletian, who established the dominate and reigned for two decades, bringing in a degree of stability.

3rd c. Romans dominating the lesser peoples
So, things started, slowly, to get better for the empire and it was due largely to Aurelian's work in reuniting the fragments. For defeating a Alemmanic invasion, a Gothic invasion, and restoring the western empire, Aurelian was named Germanicus Maximus and Gothicus Maximus. For defeating Zenobia's rebellion, he was named Parthicus Maximus and Restitutor Orientis (Restorer of the East); shortly after that, he was named by the senate Restitutor Orbis, Restorer of the World.

Back to the minis

So, back to restoring the orbis for my wee, near-orphaned legionarii. I'll have to re-base them, it seems, which I am loath to do. I'm not quite sure how I'll re-base them, that will depend on what I want to do with them. Maybe one clue to what I'm thinking is that I placed an order for a lot of single-figure bases from Litko, which arrived just this weekend.

Lion Rampant

I've given some thought to adapting Daniel Mersey's excellent Lion Rampant skirmish rules (Osprey) for playing ancients. The mechanics of the rules are simple enough and it's just a matter of fiddling with the types Mersey defines for Medievals in Lion Rampant. Cataphracts, for example, would be like mounted men-at-arms, legionaries would be like foot sergeants, lanciarii like bidowers, etc. There may need to be some creative variations to capture the full flavor of the troop types in this period, although Lion Rampant does have some variations already that would work for things like Sassanid Asvārān (mounted sergeants with bows, basically).

I have a lot of figures, especially foot, so the project would require a lot of single-based figures. I'm not against that, and as I've noted, I have a lot of Litko bases coming. Single basing the figures would also give me a lot of options for skirmish gaming. It's tempting. There's also the issue that I have many more figures than I need for a Lion Rampant project. I have enough legionaries painted to make four 12-figure units, plus auxilia, plus several cavalry units, plus bowmen, lanciarii, and dromedaries. That doesn't touch the mass of unpainted stuff...

Hail Caesar!

I've played a few games of Hail Caesar from Warlord Games. I like it pretty much, but Warlord's offerings like Hail Caesar, Black Powder, and Pike & Shotte typically require buckets of figures and I would need to buy more cavalry from A&A in order to flesh out my Roman units. I have a lot of unpainted Sassanid cavalry, but at 12 figures per unit, I have only enough for maybe four units of clibanarii and one of cataphracts. I also have a couple elephants and a lot of dismal levy spearmen.

Because Hail Caesar has somewhat agnostic basing requirements, it's likely that any multi-figure basing I use for HC will work for most other rules that use multi-figure basing, except WRG, and skirmish gaming, and Field of Glory. One clever thought would be to mount them for Field of Glory. The bases would easily work for Hail Caesar as well. But that might be too clever. Any multi-figure basing tends to lock you into games that require it. If I want to get away from projects that require a lot of figures, I have to eschew multi-figure basing.

Damn the torpedoes, full WRG ahead!

I could also just stay the course and get enough Sassanids painted and based for WRG to play a game against my Romans. That way I wouldn't need to re-base anything (which is a happy thought). This course of action might only confirm my insanity with those already inclined toward that opinion—I might even think myself insane. In my own defense, I wouldn't have to re-base anything, as I mentioned (there must be some sanity in that). I also wouldn't have to buy more figures.

Various skirmish projects

This sort of ties in with Lion Rampant. As individually-mounted figures, I can use them for any of the skirmish games I favor. The bases for infantry are 25mm x 30mm and for cavalry are 25mm x 50mm. These are the same sizes I use for the figures I have mounted for De Bellis Velitum.

The number of figures I have is a bit much for "true skirmish" gaming, which I define in my post Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short: The skirmish game (part un)part deux is coming, I promise. However, having figures to spare gives me the option to use the non-standard mountings required by some skirmish rules, such as the diamond-shaped bases for infantry figures in Milgamex' Sword and Spear.

I can also modify some other "false skirmish" type rules, Like Pig Wars, that use larger numbers of single-mounted figures. For all I know, Saga may come up with a variant that applies to the Later Roman Empire, which would be ironic since I just sold my copy of the rules.

Sell 'em

There's also staying the course and selling them later in the year at Enfilade! between painted and unpainted figures, I might get $1000.00 for the lot, which is a lot to sink into other projects.

Whither now?

At this point, every option is just a potentiality. I have about 150 25mm x 30mm bases and maybe 70 25mm x 50mm bases to work with. I also have boxes of Litko bases to use for multi-figure basing. I have yet to decide which way to go, but some day soon, I may just start popping my wee legionarii off their custom bases and putting them on some other basing. Stay tuned.