Friday, 16 December 2016

One Hour Wargames - Back to the Bronze Age

So overall the One Hour Wargames thing seems to be working out. When we started though there were two rules that I decided to miss out. I did not use bowmen as a troop type ( because not very punic wars) but also cutting out a troop type just made things simpler. Also, the rules recommend dicing at random for the composition of your armies. Now, with only six units of a maximum of four types this is not overly complex - but for a start was easier to let the boy play the same army composition.

This also meant a change of armies, wars, indeed epochs.  I needed something that had bows, and well,  I just wanted to give some different toys a run out. So enter the armies of Sumer in all their beginning of history, early bronze age, Uruk World System, I'm the King of Kish, we've got war donkey chariots of death! do you like my Ziggurat? How come we are all speaking Akkadian now?  glory.

For those people interested in such things, the figures you will see in the pictures are nearly all 20mm plastic figures from HaT, although I do believe that some Caesar miniatures have sneaked in as some tribal allies / auxiliaries and a very fine looking job they make of it to.

So new toys and the new rules, on we crack with dicing for army composition. We went with a pitched battle as the scenario as we were introducing some new elements, so it is a good idea to make sure everything else is familiar so you have confidence that the child understands it - stops them getting overwhelmed.  The boy throws and gets four units of heavy foot, one of skirmishers and one of bows. A good solid force with some shooting.

And here they are deployed. In a tight knot in the middle of the deployment zone. This is not to bad of an idea as the movement rates as compared to table size are quite large and it is not to much of a problem to get troops where you want them to go.

For my throw I received an army of three heavy foot, two mounted and one skirmishers - the same as I had been having with the Carthaginians. I am not over convinced by the effectiveness of mounted troops in these rules but at least it had the bonus of familiarity.

My gentlemen deployed. I went for as wide as a deployment as possible with a mounted unit on each flank (fear the war donkeys!).

The two armies facing each other. I put a small lake down as the reason for the fight (when the cities of Sumer had a punch up it was often over the control of an irrigation source). I also included a rather lonely looking field to add a bit of tactical interest.

My army throws itself forward. on the left the chariots tuck in behind the foot, which may seem odd. There was not a large amount of room to go on a wide outflanking and if they pushed forward or stayed in line it is possible that the bad guys from the city down the road that was into red might be able to push a unit of heavy foot into them frontally - not good. So they tucked in to await developments. On the right my chariots do push forward looking for a flank or at least diverting enemy resources to a flank.

The boy comes forward and spreads out. A weak point in his line is the bows, that although they can now shoot for a turn or two will get right royally tonked when the fighting is close quarters - win here, delay the chariots getting into action and attack a  flank if so presented, all to the good.

The boys next move. Instead of spreading his line wide he narrows it, pulling the tribesmen into reserve. Usually I would say having a reserve is a good thing but this time I think it is allowing room to pressure his flank with my mounted. The bow are now definitely a target - this will be a painful lesson for the boy but a good one for him to learn.

Or not. The clash of the heavy foot comes. His bows were hanging back. When I move into a position to hit them he responds with a comment of me having 'no chance' of getting at them, pulls them back and puts the tribesmen in the gap. So, he had a plan to get a couple of rounds shooting in before moving his heavy troops in to do the actual fighting. He really has been thinking this through..... and I am guilty of underestimating my opponent. This is however mixed with fatherly pride. The seemingly disembodied hand in this pictures by the way should not be a cause for concern, I can confirm that after the sweat band it is in fact attached to a full child in the normal way.

One consequence of the boys bait and switch is that it has left a hanging flank, which I readily exploit.

Boom! Flank charge. It does mean that my chariots will in turn be hit in the flank but this should already have caused enough disruption to tip the balance of the fight in my favour. 

Meanwhile. on the other flank, the bad guys have shoved a unit of heavy foot down the side of the field and my chariots have steadily given ground. Not to upset by this at the moment though, as it has taken his foot unit out of the fight for several turns as they walk around the side of the board. 

They do keep pushing though....... And the two units of skirmishers have managed to find a suitable venue for their traditional face off, where they can get on with not causing very much damage to each other without being disturbed by the big boys. 

My left hand heavy foot unit has polished off their opponents - due to the earlier flank charge and can now look for another opponent to put the pain on. My chariots from the right flank have now pulled fully back and the boy has a unit of heavy foot loose in my rear. I have presented the boy with a decision though, continue to close against the chariots or interfere with the rear of the main battle line.

He chooses to continue to put pressure on my chariots.

This may be because he knows that my other chariots were going to down to his bows - leading to my now free heavy foot clattering into them. Also, that he was about to win the central heavy foot fight anyhow and did not need the help.

Here his bows have been taken down and his heavy foot have moved to attack them. I have also won the fight against his tribal heavy foot.

An odd looking battle line. His troops in the middle seem doomed. However, they have the next move and therefore the next charge.

Which he uses to take down my now battered unit if heavy foot. His other unit on heavy foot have also eaten my chariots and can start to think about other things.

The other thing being the flank of my sole remaining unit of heavy foot. They charged their opponents in the rear and are well on the way to defeating them.

Which they do - but can you guess what happens next?

Yup, they get hit in the flank and taken down in turn. His skirmishers have also won the even odds dice fest against mine - handing the boy his second victory of the campaign!

Comments on the game - and rules

First thing to say, is that although I may not have brought my A game and was not fully focused on winning, I was not particularly going easy on the boy - I did not let him win and he was making his own decisions, the win was fully deserved. This is a good point in favour of the rules when considering if they are suitable for children, as the boy has now figured out how they work and is able to think through tactics and ideas and apply them.

Another thing in favour of the rules is that they did give some interesting maneuver before the fighting started. Decisions had to be made options weighed, which is as it should be.

Any down side? Well, the closing out of the game was a bit well odd - as units won a fight they queued up to take a turn to deliver a devastating flank / rear attack before suffering one in turn. This seems to be a function of the victory conditions - all units must be killed for the army to break and the lack of morale rules. This means that all units are at full effect and operate with no penalties, no matter what strength they have lost, or how bad their position is until they receive that final hit - then they are gone. This binary situation leads to an thrilling end game - all thrills and spills. However, from my position of questioning 'is this a satisfying end to a game', well no not really.

Still, one more game to go in the campaign before the winner and loser is declared and a full and considered view of the rules is given. The boy has also committed to giving his own full written review at the end of the campaign as well - so you will hear of the rules give a good game for a child from the horses (foals?) mouth.
The most fitting way to leave this game and consider the next one I feel is to consider the boys thoughts and questions about it. Which went something like this

'So, no matter what happens I can't lose the campaign can I dad? If I win the next game I win the campaign?'


'And even if the next game is a draw I win. And even if you win you can't really win.'

'That's right'

'So, you can't beat me then?'

'Well no, but I thought we were playing these games to have  fun and spend time together?'

'Oh no dad, I'm playing to beat you'.......

Thursday, 8 December 2016

One Hour Wargames - an unbalanced scenario

So, on with the testing of the One Hour Wargames Ancient rules for playing with a seven year old.The two games we have played so far have had fairly matching deployment and victory conditions. This I feel has made things simpler and has the added bonus of it being clear that it is 'fair', we are both trying to achieve the same conditions from the same starting point. Throwing in some asymmetric conditions I thought might be a challenge for the boy - lets see how he dealt with it.

The scenario chosen was number 6 'Flank Attack (1)'. I gave the boy a choice of what side he wanted to play after explaining the scenario - to my surprise he chose to be the force being ambushed stating that he would like a challenge - good lad. It also meant that as this was a Carthaginian force ambushing a Roman one it could count as a refight of Lake Trasimene, well sort of, and it's always good to get some history into the games.

Will describe the game briefly, mainly through pictures (being worth 1000 words and all that) to give context and illustrations for my comments before giving those comments on  how we enjoyed it and any problems with the rules. To win the Romans had to get three units of the table edge they are advancing towards - any other result being a victory for Carthage.

The scenario was that the Roman force was lined up one behind the other down the middle of the road, Carthage could have two units blocking the advance with the rest coming on from the side. As can be seen in the first picture, Carthage had two units of foot playing the role of blocking the Roman advance with another foot closest to the table edge then the more mobile troops further back. The basic plan was to pin the Romans in fights frontally before sweeping in from behind.

The Romans first turn was to advance with their first unit of foot, the velites halt to fire. The cav and the blue legion break right to try and get past the Carthaginians, with the other two units of foot turn to face the ambush and invite the Carthaginian horse to charge in.

The Cav decline the invite and look to sweep around the rear. An attempt to crunch the Triarii is made - a frontal attack with a flank charge being tee'd up. The Gauls in Carthage's service move left to block an easy charge off table.

Rome looks to defend the flank of the Triarii, as a rapid collapse would for them would probably mean game over. It does however mean two of the six Roman units are already committed to fighting in place.  They also look to gang up on the Gauls blocking the advance off table. The last unit is brought back but still facing rearward.

Gauls move to make sure they can not be hit in the flank by anything nasty and the rest of their army closes in.

The Roman velites move of table as it is a unit towards the victory conditions and they can not achieve to much anyhow. The Romans have decided the Gauls have to go if they have any chance of winning so charge the cav in to start that process and move a unit of foot for a flank charge next turn. The rear guard continues to fall back.

The trap is now closing in however. A rear charge sees off the Triarrii, the flank guard legion is in dire straights and the rearguard is engaged by the Numidians. A fight the Numidians can not win on their own but they are looking to pin the rear guard legion in place.

To win the Romans need to get two more units off table - if the Gauls can be dealt with this is possible - in goes the flank charge.

It takes two turns to destroy them however and in that time the Libyan spearman redeploy and get in a rear charge.

The Roman cav ride off for the second unit safe. The rear guard have also destroyed the Numidians but it has taken to long and they are hit in the flank by the Gallic cav.

The writing is on the wall now - two units safe but another needed for the win and the forces of Carthage are all over the remaining Romans.

No way back from this - leading to a Carthaginian victory - with the first victory for the forces of Dadduniam in the campaign!

Did the scenario work?

Yes it did, very simple but gave some interesting decisions to be made. It was complex enough to get the boy thinking but as it was still only six units it was simple enough for him to be able to mentally track. I did give some 'you my want to think about' type comments, which is all ok - as this is what I should be doing anyhow. But all the decisions were taken by him, so all good in the 'quest for a game to play with children' front. The main problem I had with playing this scenario is actually more an issue with the rules - so see below.

Are the rules still holding up?

Over all yes, still giving an enjoyable time for the both of us. The boy was not to unhappy with losing (a potential minefield when playing with children) and was engrossed in the game, with it seemingly close down to the wire. I say seemingly though, due to the IGOUGO (ah, for any non toy soldiery geek initiates this refers to a game style where one side moves all their forces (I go) and then the other does (UGO)). This combined with the simple combat meant that I felt that I could see the way the game would go from quite early on - barring any wild swings of luck. This was not a problem for the boy though and each twist and turn of the game was thrilling. In the future games I am going to have to try and make myself not think things through to much in advance I feel.

The other niggle I had was an echo of my earlier one of defining what a flank charge is. This broadens it out a bit more to look at unit placement and what their movement represents in general. This is illustrated by my early move to bring the Gallic foot out wide. I could have placed them in such a way as to block any possible exit from the table - with not enough room between the unit and the table edge on one side to get past  and on the other to small a gap between the Gauls and my spearmen. As they can only be attacked by one unit frontally this could have caused a severe (and somewhat unfair) roadblock. I decided not to do this. It could be argued a wider table would have negated this problem - true, but I was playing with the table width and deployment zones called for. As, due to there brevity the rules are silent on unusually troop placement I think it is possible that I could (if  I looked) find more ways to take advantage of this in the rules. The rules do seem to depend on the unwritten rule of 'play nicely children', which I am of course using as I am playing with my child. I dread to think of a scenario were the boy sees an advantage in an odd placement - that the rules allow and me trying to persuade him not to do it as it is 'not nice or fair'. Yung children can be very competitive....

Still, again another enjoyable fight and a good time was had by all. The campaign is now one game each and one draw with two games to go and all to play for.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

So, what am I really looking for in a wargame to play with a child?

I was going to next develop a list of games that I am going to try playing – and ask for recommendations. However, thinking about it I thought that it would make more sense to think about the criteria that would make a game suitable for a child to play so I can then judge if a game might be suitable. I am in no way a game designer so these thoughts are very much of the cuff and from someone that hasn’t given much thought. Any pointers would be more than welcome.  In no particular order here are the things that I think may need to be considered.

1.       The amount of ‘manoeuvre elements’ that a player has to deal with. With the ‘One Hour Wargames’ the boy and I are trying at the moment, although they claim to be a ‘Big Battle’ game, you in fact have at the most 6 units to deal with each turn. Skirmish games are usually considered to be simpler, but if in your skirmish game you have 18 figures running around able to operate independently that is three times as many things to keep track of.
2.       How many different actions each unit can take. If all a unit can move, shot and fight in a turn, that is easy to keep track of. If you are worrying about reloads, overwatch or a morale test this turns into overload for a child quite quickly.
3.       How many rules differing units use / have access to. One Hour Wargames being a useful example again. Every unit uses the same mechanic for fighting – through a dice for a score. You may have to half it for cav or add 2 for heavy foot but this is just a bit of simple arithmetic. Games that have a mechanic that ever unit has access to differing rules can quickly become complex. I love playing Malifaux for instance, but damn, I find it difficult to remember what my units can do, let alone my enemies stuff. Differing rules can be ok if each side has different rules but are the same for that side. So in Space Hulk, Genestealers may play different to the Space Marines, but if you are playing the Genestealers, they all have the same few rules to keep track of – and their player does not have to keep a close track of the Marines rules.
4.       How complex are the command and control rules. Games without any are probably the way to go for children. Or at the least simple ones. DBA’s through a dice and you can move that many elements / groups is probably ok, anything more than that probably a no no.
5.       Are the victory conditions simple, consistent and clear? ‘Kill all the enemy to win’ simple. ‘Have a unit walk of the opposite board edge before turn 10’, probably doable. Any victory conditions that can’t be made clear in one or at most two sentences, probably to much.
6.       Last criteria that I can think of and probably the most important one. How long before stuff happens? I think Peter Pigs pre game in Poor Bloody Infantry is excellently designed to give an exciting asymmetrical game but it is a fair amount of doing stuff before you start shooting each other. Likewise, I prefer games where you can and indeed must manoeuvre for position before the fighting occurs. I feel children however are looking for a game where stuff happens from the get go. Winning may be important to them, but action all the way through is how they want to achieve it.

Any point that I have missed that I should think about. Any advice for things I should consider when looking at games to play? I would be interested in hearing any comments. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

One Hour War games - Lets play again

 After the sound thrashing that I received in the first game, we rolled on to play a more interesting scenario, where I was sure my superior tactical acumen would lead to a stunning victory. I chose more or less at random from the early scenarios number 3 - Control the River. The victory conditions were you needed to control both fords at the end of the game (15 turns). Right oh, simple enough. For terrain, again I went with a bare board that I fondly imagine is the colour of fields of Sicily in Summer, or somewhere. A river is added (fairly obviously), with two fords - one marked by the road. I also added a wood for a bit of interest - and because the boy likes having terrain.

My cunning plan - born out of my superior tactical knowledge of course was to throw my cav over the fords and fight the Romans on the opposite side of the river - where they would get butchered. However,  this would mean my heavy foot would get to the fords first. As the defenders at a ford only take half hits, on top of the half hits that heavy foot take this means they could see off all comers.

And here is the plan being put into action, horse galloping up, with my skirmishers in the middle so it can shoot in either direction as needed, one unit of heavy foot to take each ford and one in the middle as a reserve. The boys dastardly Romans are more concentrated. He has also placed his Velites in the wood, where they will be more or less useless. The wargames rule of 'you must stick rough terrain troops in a wood no matter if this is a useful thing to do or not' is followed by far more experienced wargamers than him, so  I can not hold it against him.

Realising that control of the fords is important, the boy throws his cav forward to control one crossing, so I pull my Numidians back to let the Spanish foot storm the ford. On the other side, my Gallic Cav are well on the way to carrying out the 'being butchered' part of the plan but this does allow the foot to take the ford.

 Not content with letting me attack his cav on the ford he throws them forward so his legions can dig in on the ford. It does mean his cav give up the protection of the ford and will get tonked, but all in all a good move. Hmm, my boy does seem to be a fast learner. His Triarii have also walked over their mounted opposition and move up to start the attack on the other flank. He has also realised that sitting in the woods with his sole missile unit is a waste of time and has brought it up to the river where an inconclusive exchange of javelins is taking place with my light foot.

A few turns later. My Spanish have attacked the ford to their front and my Gauls have beaten the Triarii so the Italian allied foot are thrown in. At this point, the game degenerated into a dice throwing contest as we ground out casualties on each other.

 The Spanish die so the Libyan Spearman are tee'd up for the fight.

His Italian allies die so a Legion is moved to be thrown in. The boy was also getting the worst of the Javelin exchange so has pulled back from that to save his unit being destroyed - again, a sensible and clear sighted decision.

The game was due to take 15 turns and at that limit (lets call it nightfall) whoever is defending the ford is judged to have held it. So a drawn game.

So, how was it?

As a game, not to great. There were a few moves to try and grab the fords first but most of the game were two static combats with one side having a big advantage on each combat. This may be realistic - as only battle that is funneled into two narrow areas will be a frontal grind but it does not make for an interesting game.

This is partly my fault with the choice of scenarios. Each scenario is supposed to be used with all the sets of rules. Those rules where most (or all) units shoot would have been much more interesting, as you would not need to be in contact to fight. If I had given half a seconds thought to this I would have seen that I should have used another scenario. In my defense I would say that the rules say all scenarios can be used with all rules and I took them at their word. Next game, I will be sure to run a quick mental check to ensure that it will give a suitable game.

Good points? Well, the rules worked well and were easy to follow and gave no results that I would say were odd or incorrect - so that is still a big plus. The boy understood them and could apply them himself, which in the second game of playing them is a good thing for a set of rules that I want to use to play with children. Being so simple it also gave him space to think about tactics, which he did with aplomb. We also both enjoyed the game, it gave a good focus for us spending time together and we got to cheer or curse the dice and enjoy playing together, which is the most important part of the exercise.

 I will also need to try some armies with the ancients rules that use bowmen to give all the unit types a run out which I will do shortly. Am going to go with one more Punic War game first though - 'Flank Attack' as it seems to be a far more suitable scenario for the armies involved - report to be posted soon.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

One Hour Wargames - First Review Game

So, we have decided to give One Hour Wargames a go. First decision - what period out of all those on offer shall we play? Well, I decided to take Mr Thomas at his word and go for the cheap and easy set up. I had some 20mm plastic ancient figures that are ideal for young hands so I decided to go with them - Rome V Carthage. The boy took the Romans – on the grounds of ‘what’s Carthage?’ was his first question when I asked him want side he wanted to be. He listened when I answered as well, so definite learning about history going on – can't be bad. For terrain I went with a bare wooden board and some scatter terrain as I was feeling the ‘quick and easy’ love and on we cracked.

Each army is made up of six units, in this game heavy foot, cav and skirmishers. The fourth troop type allowed by the rules were archers, which we would not be using as that would not be very Punic Wars. Following the recommended sizes for bases I represented each unit as two bases wide of 60mm bases. I also made the heavy foot two bases deep to give them a bit more of a hefty look. The table width and depth is 3 foot - the playing area being marked by a faint line on the board to the left of the wood - roughly where the ruler is placed. This makes the table not much wider than the six units that make up an army - limiting flanking shenanigans. This had been further limited by the terrains on the flank - which I had put down to add a bit of interest but kept to the side so it would not dominate. To stop the game armies being mirror images I had given Carthage one less heavy foot and an extra cav instead. The only rules for deployment is that one army deploys first - the other second. 

Carthage deployed with skirmishers facing the wood, heavy foot in the centre and both cav on the right.The commander of Rome had put down a solid centre of heavy foot with a unit of Triari in reserve, velites facing the woods and mounted covering the other flank, slightly held  back. I had given the boy a few 'you may want to consider' bits of advice but this was his own plan and very solid it seemed too. 

First moves - both sides push forward in the centre with Carthage keen to get to grips with their cav on the right hoping for a decision before the infantry fight is completed. The Carthagian slingers look to harass the legions before the main clash. 

The Roman cav charges into the Gauls whilst the legions continue to advance. The velites take the wood.

Even though it may have been to the advantage of the Romans to delay the mounted clash, in the rules you only cause casualties in your turn, so charging in gives you the first swing so must usually be considered to be a good idea.

On this basis the Carthaginian foot look to get stuck in. Due to the lines being at a slight angle, only the Spanish are in charge range with the Gauls and Libyans closing up.

In response the Romans get well stuck in - fighting is now general along the line.

Apart from the skirmishers who are shooting at each other. As the velites are in cover they only take half hits however - which leads me to the decision that my slingers will soon draw daggers and charge in.

With their first charge advantage the Romans mounted rout the Gauls. Units stay on the table with no ill effects until they reach 15 hits - when they are removed. This is not so bad for Carthage however as the Roman cav is badly worn and facing fresh enemy reserves.

And the Spanish charge in! As long as we can win one of the fights in the centre to draw the attention of the Triarii we should be able to collapse the Romans from the flank - all very Hannibal.

A few turns later - the exact same picture. Heavy foot fights do take several turns to resolve. As all units were committed - apart from the Triarii, who were waiting for something to happen there were no decisions take take here, we just took turns rolling dice. Which was however somewhat exciting, looking to see who would get the breakthrough.

And here we have it, the mounted Spanish hack down the Roman cav and start dreaming of Roman flanks!

Not for long however, as the Triarii do exactly what reserves are for and cover the gap. Still, no worries, win the first fight in the middle and the day would soon be mine.

Lose two units in the same turn however and it seems the only thing that would be mine is the pointy end of a Roman sword.

The Spanish, not wanting to throw themselves onto the spears of a fresh unit of Triarii pull back.

With the Romans advancing against them and also putting pressure on the flank of the gallic foot.

There are no rules for what constituted a flank charge but I ruled that it would need to start behind the target units flank. This is a standard ancients rules idea and seemed reasonable to me. So the legion just moved into a position to deliver the coup de grace.

Which was not needed as the Gauls went down without the help of a flank charge.

With the writing on the wall the Spanish Cav thought they would try to take down the battered legion before it was game over.

Could the brave Spaniards do it?

 I very much doubt it......

With things not looking to happy for the slingers who had been having a merry old punch up on the other flank with the velites. This would not last much longer.....

A overwhelming victory for the Legions of Rome!

The end of the game saw me explaining that I was at a disadvantage in the battle as I need to rely on maneuver and what with the flanks being closed down by terrain my cav were at a disadvantage. And anyway I was very unlucky with the dice in the central foot combats. In reply my boy pointed out that the game was decided by his far higher standard of generalship and luck had nothing to do with it. So a traditional and proper end to a wargame in fact.

How does the game measure up to my criteria? Well the boy loved it, a thrilling game where he got to beat daddy - whats not to love? It was not the most mentally taxing of games to play but it did require some thought - enough to make it interesting. Finding out if there is enough thought needed to make it interesting on an ongoing basis is one of the reasons why I am going to play a few games before giving a final verdict. There was a part of the game where there was no thought required - everyone was fighting. This did not last long enough to get tedious - a few turns. As each turn consisted of a player throwing a few dice we got through them very quickly. It was also not just a luck contest - more a deciding the outcome of previous laid plans and decisions. 

Did it feel like an ancients / Punic war battle rather than 'generic dice rolling contest'? I would have to say, within the constraints of only having 6 units a side, very much a yes. Looking to overwhelm a mounted flank, the legions of Rome battering down their opponents, skirmishers messing about to not very much effect, this all seems to give a clear and plausible plot to the battle - as I hope comes through in the write up of the battle above. For the question did I enjoy playing the game? A most certain yes. Very quick to set up and less than an hour to play, a very pleasant time was had by me playing a game with my first born. 

Any downsides to One Hour Wargames Ancient Rules? Well, there are two possible problems I can see. The first is that there will be a mounting up of holes in the rules that I will have to patch. 'Well make up your own rules as needed then you lazy sod' I hear you cry. Which of course I will do. The thing is though, if I am paying your actual money for a set of rules I kind of think that they should be more or less complete. Or am I just being harsh here?

The last caveat I have in my mind at the moment is that playing the games might become very samey and formulaic and therefore boring. Although the fact that there are so many scenarios will hopefully mitigate this. The next game will be a battle to control a river crossing.......