Okay, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge back into historical wargaming, pretty much where my tabletop gaming began.
There are a couple of things that led me to this decision.
Firstly, I’ve been putting together a series of posts on how to create a tabletop wargame AI for solo play. I’d decided to write all of the posts before publishing them live, just because I knew I’d need to make changes as I worked on the process, however, after a couple of posts I realised things weren’t going well.
I was trying to encompass too much. Trying to tailor for all (well, almost all) the different mechanisms used across the many available game; it just didn’t work. I needed a focus. Looking at the war/skirmish games I currently own and play, I realised that they didn’t lend themselves to a generic form of AI because they incorporated event/command cards that were quite game specific. They also had too many special abilities tied to units or commanders, thus making a generic AI inadequate for their needs.
So, as I said, I needed a focus, and I wanted something that I could use to form a solid base for an AI, something that could then be easily modified by the user to suit differing rulesets, and that trying to include games that featured a hand of cards in some way would have to come later, if at all. It was time to look around at what would work.
Secondly, a timely couple of post from John, Just Needs Varnish, titled, ‘A Classical Theme!‘ and ‘The Persians Are Coming!‘, brought back happy memories of my youth, where I would spend many a day fighting ancient battles between the Romans and the Britons, or re-enacting Waterloo from the Napoleonic period. This really set the itch going again and made up my mind… It was time to get back to history!
Having made up my mind to do this, I had a number of decisions to make, what period, what rules, and what scale?
From Thermopylae to the Bulge!
This was the easiest of the decisions to make. I’ve played games covering so many different periods, including the American Civil War, WWII, and even some modern-day stuff, but I had my favourites.
Ancient and Napoleonic were the two I played regularly, and a quick glance at my bookshelves would tell anyone that I have a deep interest in these periods. I’m also quite fond of WWII wargames, as they offer something quite different to the other two periods – losing the formed units and fixed structure, thus introducing whole new strategies and tactics.
However, there was something else that influenced my final decision – Time of legends: Joan of Arc. The game, along with the expansions I have, includes around 300-400 miniature, maybe more, so I already had the makings of an army or two… or so I though (more about that later).
The Medieval period, despite taking an interest historically (the Hundred Years War and The War of The Roses), has never been something I’d wanted to replicate in a wargame before, and to be quite honest, It doesn’t wholly grab my interest now either. I don’t know what it is, but it just doesn’t appeal to me in that way. But I had all those miniatures, so it seemed logical to pursue that avenue.
Time of Legends, yes, it is a wargame, but it isn’t a conventional historic wargame. You’re restricted in the amount of units you can move and how you can move them; there’s no replication of formations or unit size, and the tactics don’t really bare any resemblance to those actually employed at the time. It is a good game, though… Just thought I’d clear that up!
Rules! If we didn’t have rules where would we be?*
* Those who know the Pub Landlord know the answer to that one!
The next step was to find a ruleset that interested me – this one wasn’t so easy.
After trawling the Internet for Medieval rules one good thing came to light, and that was most of them were tied into ancient wargame rules, so I’d be covering a period I really was interested in.
First off was De Bellis Antiqutatis 2.0, better known as DBA. This is a very popular competitive ruleset, so I thought it was worth considering. WRONG! Ah, the book is a difficult read, aimed more at people who have previous experience with the DBA game. It also wasn’t the type of game I wanted – a lot of the unit level rules appeared over simplified, such as troop types, and the distinction between differing units was kept to a minimum, at least that was my impression of it, it really wasn’t for me. (I’d actually had these rules for some time but could never get more than half way through reading them before giving it up as a bad job!)
I looked at a few other rulesets, but again I just couldn’t find anything that floated my boat, so to speak, and then I remembered reading John’s posts and the Hail Caesar rules they used.
Hail Caesar – Battles With Model Soldiers In The Ancient Era. A quick look on the Warlord Games Website confirmed that it too included the Medieval period – at this point I wasn’t too bothered about scale, as it doesn’t usually take much work to change things to fit, and actually the book includes a section on using different scales.
I’ve pretty much read it cover to cover now and have decided to use this as a base ruleset. I say base, as there’s a couple of things I might want to tinker around with, for example: there’s no restriction applied to a unit that that wheels in line, it can still move without restriction (If you’ve ever tried it then you’ll know how difficult it is to wheel in line formation). There’s also no restrictions on how a Phalanx moves either, but that can wait until I’ve played it as is to see how things go – one of the niceties of this ruleset is that it approaches the game expecting you to make your own changes, and actually encourages it.
At this point, though, I had started to go through my Joan of Arc miniatures to get an idea of what I could put together, and it wasn’t too bad, I could probably field about a dozen or so units, but there isn’t quite enough of each unit type to field opposing sides – 1 unit Foot Knights, 1 of Mounted Knights, etc. depending on unit model count of course; I went with the suggested unit size in the rules, so there’s always some tinkering that can be done. (JofA has a lot of fantasy miniatures, so if I ever want the Roman Legion to take on a hoard of skeletons, then I’m ready!)
There’s a ‘but’ coming…
But, basing and painting was going to be a pain, as I would also need the miniatures to play the JofA game, which meant they’d need painting to represent a variety of nations, though I could probably get away with just the English and French, and they’d need to be removable from their bases. Also, did I really want to shell out money to buy more miniatures for a period that was well down on my list of favourites!
In the end, I decided to continue sorting out my JofA figures into units, just to see if I could field two small opposing divisions, and in the meantime I’d pursue something much closer to my heart – Ancients!
So, I’d decided on the period – ancient, I’d got a decent set of rules – Hail Caesar, all I had to do now was get myself an army or two, but which scale?
It’s the size that counts!
There were several miniature figure scales to consider, each with their own advantages, and equally, their own disadvantages. Here’s my thinking…
It’s funny, but when I used to play in the early 80’s this was one of the least popular scales for wargames, but now it appears to be the one to go for, and the majority of rulesets I looked at were based on this scale.
The quality of the miniatures has a lot to do with it, they’re absolutely gorgeous nowadays and look formidable when massed together in a tabletop battle. The material they are made from has made a difference, as plastic and resin miniatures have come along way over the last couple of decades and are so much more cost effective than metal ones. A metal army in 28mm would set you back a fair whack, but plastic/resin makes things a little more affordable, though it is still a costly thing putting together an army.
Another consideration with 28mm is the battlefield size. 6′ x 4′ is recommended and you really need that space; some units that can move 36″ in one turn (In Hail Caesar it is possible for a unit to make 3 moves in a turn, with light cavalry able to move 12′ per move), so anything smaller would prove restrictive unless you’re planning on Divisional battles or smaller.
At the moment, my big table resides in the loft, and as I have yet to insulate the ceiling up there it is either 40°C+ or absolutely bloody freezing! I do have an extendable board rigged up in the garage, though, which is 6′ x 3′ and clamps onto my workbench. 3′ would be pushing it a bit with two full, 28mm armies on it, so that needed consideration.
One of the big positives for this scale is the availability and variety one has to choose from; every period and every nation appeared to be covered, whereas I found this a drawback with some of the other scales, as we shall see.
Finally, and this is a big snag for me, is painting. You just can’t let a bare, naked army take the field, it just isn’t done, and so they need to be painted and that leads me to an issue – I’m the Captain Slow of the painting world!
The problem here is that 28mm figures are lovely and detailed, and so a quick base, wash and drybrush, just wouldn’t cut the mustard, I’d have to give it my best shot and it would be a year or two before they saw any action!
So, in the end I ruled out 28mm. It was a difficult decision because they look so good on the table, but cost, space, and the time to get them up to standard meant it just couldn’t be… for now!
20mm or 1/72nd
There is some variance between these two scales, but I’m grouping them together as they’re often close enough as to make no difference.
1/72nd scale was where I began, with all my Napoleonic miniatures. They were plentiful but not especially great, made from soft plastic that often took on a mind of its own. No idea who made them, I was given a job lot in a shoebox. They may not have looked like anything special, but at the time they meant a lot to me and kept me busy for hours on end.
So, this scale would have been worth considering but I ruled it out quite quickly for one simple reason, there wasn’t enough availability for the Ancient or Medieval period (I’m only considering the UK market here). I found Romans pretty well supported but even then, the range was small compared to other scales.
So, I moved on with my search…
This would be my preferred scale – the detail of the miniatures is pretty good, they don’t take up as much storage space as the larger scales, the battlefield size can be reduced to what I have available, and, as this was the scale of JofA, I already had some scenery.
Things were beginning to look a little more promising. looking around I quickly became impressed with the quality and detail that is being produced and I eventually found a manufacturer that caters for a wide range of nations – Forged in Battle. There were also plenty of other manufacturers to back this up, so all seemed well.
There’s another ‘but’ coming…
But one had to consider the cost. A box of infantry from Forged in Battle was £12 and contained 24 figures. Compared to 28mm this sounded quite good, coming in at around half the price of Warlord’s own range, and a starter army came in at £88, which contained around 8 units. The problem is, and it’s a common one for solo wargamers, I’d need to buy an opposing army too, so that would set me back £176!
Could I really justify paying that? Certainly not all in one go, so maybe I just needed to bite the bullet and take my time, buy a unit a month, paint it, and build a couple of armies up that way – I’d get there in the end.
And so, I was almost ready to take the plunge but then something else caught my eye, something I had considered earlier but discounted it on previous experience…
In some respects, this scale appeals to me the most. It enables mass battles to become a reality on a battlefield the size of the family dining table, and it brings with it a new outlook to strategy and tactics that don’t always appear when using armies made up of fewer units.
I’d discounted it, far too easily it would seem, because I’d watched games being played with this scale some years ago (maybe early 90’s, I can’t quiet recall) and, well, the miniature quality was pretty dire.
How things have changed! I came across many a site offering a good range of 10mm ancients, but one in particular caught my eye, Pendraken miniatures. The detail, at least in the images, looked decent for the scale, they actually resemble the soldiers they are, as opposed to some undefined blob!
The best bit, though, is the price. An army starter set costs £34 for about 8 units (20-30 figures a unit), making it feasible to build up armies from different nations quickly. They’re also a lot faster to paint, as the visual impact, when viewing from a gaming distance, is more about the numbers than the individuals, and so you use techniques that draw the eye in a different way – fewer but brighter colours and a focus on shields and helmets.
Okay, there isn’t quite the range that Forged in Battle provide in terms of nations, but 10mm is a growing market, and so it is worthy of consideration. All the periods are covered too, and with the entry level cost being lower, it makes branching out much easier, especially if you build up an assortment of terrain.
My only thought is, how will the Hail Caesar rules hold up to the reduction in scale? It does say that they’ve successfully experimented with this scale using the rules as is, but I’d want to adjust all the movement and range distances down, otherwise it would be too disproportionate and defeat the idea of being able to field a large amount of units – having 28mm and 10mmm units move and fire the same distance defeats the object of scaling down, you might as well just use a piece of wood to represent the units!
Victory… of sorts!
So, I’m going to go with Ancients, I’m going to start off with the Hail Caesar rules, and I’m pretty sure I’m doing it all in 10mm scale – unless anyone can persuade me otherwise, that is!
That leaves one more difficult choice – which armies to buy? One will just have to be Roman, but which nations bottom do I want them to kick, that’s the question!