Saturday, 26 November 2022

The Second Battle of Temeshvekovar

‘Will these people never give up?’

‘They are Romans, my friend. They never give up as long as their cause is righteous.’

‘Who says if their cause is righteous?’

‘They decide. And if the cause includes money, it is automatically righteous.’

‘They worship money?’

‘Um… Not exactly. They worship the things you can gain with money, especially power and the ability to make people do what you want them to do.’

‘And so they are back again to try to reclaim ‘their’ money.’

‘Indeed, my friend. All you have to do is beat them again.’

‘And you cannot help again?’

‘I am afraid not. I am still tracking down my brother. The plains are a big place. I think I know where he is.’


Long time, no ancients. Still, I have just finished painting some more Dacians and so it seemed like a good idea to get them onto the table. After the last outing, I felt the Romans had been a bit hard done by at Temeshvekovar, losing out to a desperate flanking charge at the Dacian last gasp. Anyway, I went all sophisticated on this one.

The opening move or so is shown above. The Romans, led by yours truly, have just arrived on the table bottom left. Dubloswhiskos is on the hill to the middle left. The piles of playing cards are the Dacian ambush positions, two or four cards for the smaller positions, the rest on the hill to the left, the hill just behind the stream to the right, and Temeshvekovar itself, in the distance in the right corner.

At this point, I recalled how useful light troops were in ambush situations. I had a base of light horse and was determined to use it. The first ambush threw up a base of Dacian bows in the fields in the foreground. I left those to the infantry.

Accompanying the cavalry, I investigated the rear of the first hill and obtained a major ambush of Dacians from their stack: eight bases of tribal foot, a base each of skirmishers and bows. This made me nervous, as it was here that the Roman attack had faltered last time. I determined to approach this assault more methodically.

The plan was to deploy the auxiliaries to prevent Dacian attacks down the hill on the legionary column, while the legionaries moved along the road to take the hill from the flank, covered by the cavalry. It, well, sort of, worked.

Above you can see the auxilia neatly deployed at the foot of the hill, and the legionaries are deploying. However, the auxilia archers have just been struck and routed by a full-blooded charge down the hill by some tribesmen. I had forgotten, since it is so long ago, that the most vulnerable point of the Roman armies seems to be their archers. Humbug. Still, I have the cavalry backing them up and I have deployed some legionaries to give the tribal foot something to think about on their flank. It will be fine.

Sometimes, fine is not enough. Or rather, the dice do not smile on the ‘it will be fine camp’. Disordered as they were by their victory over the bowmen, the tribal foot ploughed into the supporting cavalry and, as the shaken counters indicate, gave them a rough time, even with being flanked by some legionaries. The Dacian foot on the hill, by the way, cannot be persuaded, even by Dubloswhikos, to charge down the hill at the auxilia.

Things went from bad to worse as the Roman cavalry lost the next round of combat and fled, although the legionaries did finish off one of the tribal bases. As the Dacians pursued, however, the remaining Roman cavalry struck them from behind and they added to the routing throng. Meanwhile, Dubloswhiskos persuaded his men to charge and they struck the auxilia, causing the right-hand bases to rout but being recoiled by the left (pesky dice again) which meant that the great barbarian had to dice for his well-being. A six was rolled (dice again!) and he was hors de combat. The Dacian morale went to fall back, so they did, but, next turn, some extra Dacian tempo was rolled and, not having much left to do, the tribesmen charged again and this time routed the auxilia.

By this time both armies were in a fairly parlous state. The Dacians were general-less and only had a skirmisher and an archer base on the hill. The rest of the tribal foot was either routing or pursuing. I was about to assault the hill with an imposing line of legionaries, having managed to impose some sort of order on the centre. Meanwhile, some Dacian foot had sealed off the ford.

After a bit of thought, I called for overnight camping of the armies. The Dacians withdrew from the hill and the pursuing tribesmen circled around to join their friends. The Romans camped on top of the hiss, and the ambush cards, with losses removed, were shuffled and redeployed.

The fighting the next day was rather short. The Roman cavalry crossed the river while the foot moved along the road to the ford. I, as general, was too busy ordering the foot to cross the stream that I failed to stop my cavalry from trotting onto a Dacian skirmisher screen, which they started to dispose of up the hill, but they then fell victim to the downhill tribal foot charge. One base was routed and the Roman morale was gone.

Was it my fault? Maybe. There were simply not enough tempo points around to stop the cavalry at the point I wanted them to halt. Mind you, Dubloswhiskcos had already called up reinforcements from the town so I was going to be in trouble anyway. Two deep tribal foot charging downhill are a handful.


‘So you won again, my friend. Even the Romans might accept you have earned your gold.’

‘Do the Romans accept anything? Anyway, could you sort out your civil war and get back to being my ally before they come again? I have to beat them every time, they only need to win once.’

Saturday, 19 November 2022

Post-Colonial Wargaming

Over the years, people who have kindly commented on this blog have raised a number of ways of describing its content. Perhaps the most accurate, at least in the early days, was a kind of postmodern wargaming. I have tended to move away from that at least in terms of blog posts; there are other things to write about, not least playing actual wargames.

Anyway, the title of this post is possibly a red rag to some wargamers but bear with me. It might even turn out to be interesting and relevant. I am reading a book (actually, I have been asked to review it) which has as one of its themes post-colonialism, along with domination, empire and the mindsets that these elements of the world and its history have generated. As with a lot of non-wargaming books I have read, in order to see if the arguments are sound, I thought to apply them to wargaming. This might be a bit unfair, as I have only reached the third chapter, but I will give it a go.

The basic idea is this: modern western society is dominated by global capital, and global capital makes us think in certain ways. We consider economic activity and efficiency, employment and activity, consumption and productivity, and so on. Sitting behind this is the modern subject of economics, and its claims to be scientific. That is, the market is presumed to be rational, and the free individuals who operate within the market are also presumed to be rational actors, and to be able to look out for themselves. This is, of course, a view of the marketplace which is that of the privileged few, those who play the market and win.

Now, before the blog gets accused of being some sort of woke wargaming, ‘woke’ being a term of abuse for thinking about things like racism, colonialism and other prejudices, let me think a little about how wargaming works, at least within its historical context. The idea of postcolonialism, after all, is that there are plenty of alternatives, not just the one tied down by those in power. And it is that idea of alternatives that I think is worth exploring.

Let me take an example, as it might aid clarity. Suppose you decide that the next project in your wargaming is the Battle of Agincourt. You have a rough idea of this, from the bowmen of England fighting with their trousers down and their fingers up against the cream of French nobility. But you do need a little more information, such as how many men there were per side and how they were deployed. It is here the wargamer runs into some difficulty.

According to most chroniclers, the English army numbered around 6000 me. I think we can cope with that, but the French are a lot more difficult. The English chroniclers give between 60000 and 150000, while the French give 8000 and 50000 (some also giving the English 20000). Juliet Barker goes for 8000 men at arms, 4000 archers and 1500 crossbowmen in the vanguard, a similar number in the main battle, two wings of 600 and 800 mounted men at arms, and the rest in the rearguard.

Already the wargamer is faced with choices and alternatives. We have a sort of scientific mindset that needs the numbers and the actions to be nailed down far more accurately than the chronicles can achieve, and a great deal more accurately than the authors and actors probably would have been interested in. We also suffer a little because most historians are more interested in the Treaty of Troyes and its terms rather than the battle which led to it, but I will avoid a rant about the bias of modern historians against military history here.

There are, of course, other confusions, such as the exact compositions and locations of the cavalry, and how the French host was really organised (if indeed it was organised). All sorts of rivalries emerged and were a nightmare for the commanders in assigning positions in the lines and battles. After all, who wanted to be in the rearguard? It seems that this body was the dumping ground for soldiers deemed surplus to requirements, which contributed in all probability to the poor performance on the day.

At this point the scientific wargamer might well hold their head in despair and decide on another battle, one which is better documented and not so fraught with command difficulties. A postcolonial wargamer, however, might embrace the ambiguities and vagueness as an opportunity. After all, what would have happened if 6000 English faced off against 8000 French? Or 20000 French? Would the outcome have been different? Again, there were archers and crossbowmen with the vanguard, but they seem to have disappeared by the morning of the battle. To recreate history, therefore, they should not be included. What would have happened if they had been used?

The point is that there are a number of narratives that can be constructed out of what we do know about Agincourt or, indeed, any other given battle. The point of postcolonialism is that our narratives should not be reduced to a single thread of accepted wisdom. There are, as most proper historians I have read or spoken to know, many options for what did happen and what might have happened. The idea that there is a single narrative, a single way of understanding the events of the past would not, I think, really pass muster in today’s historiography.

The problem is that as wargamers we need, for example, a definite number of troops to put onto the table. Were there 8000 or 20000 French? But the point is that as wargamers we can experiment. What would have happened if there had been 8000? We can guess that a fairly easy English victory would have ensued. Would it be the same with 20000? We can try to find out. And then we can add back in the archers and crossbowmen and ponder the might have beens.

Without resorting to woke-ness, postcolonial readings of history can point us in new directions in wargaming, if we are alert to the alternatives which are available and the vagueness and ambiguity of most of the sources. We need to nail down some things for a wargame, of course, but we can vary the parameters and see what happens another time if we wish.

Saturday, 12 November 2022

The Battle of St Peter’s – Jersey Boys V

 ‘You cannot just surrender, Sir George.’

‘Why not, captain? I am in command. I hold the King’s commission. The Commonwealth forces have landed and are just over there, and they have invited us to surrender to prevent the effusion of Christian blood. For the good of the islanders, I will surrender.’

‘You may surrender, Sir George, but I will not, and nor will my men or the militia here with us. The King is not far away and he will support us.’

‘What with, Captain James, what with? An ambassador and a sheaf of French letters?’

‘We must fight on, knowing the justice of our cause.’

‘Justice does not protect against bullets, captain. We must surrender.’

‘In that case, Sir George, you are under arrest. Troopers, take him away. I will assume command.’


And so the die was cast, as it were. Having landed at St Ouen’s Bay, the Commonwealth force split. Hatter’s regiment (the half of it anyway) marched south and scattered the St Brelade militia, as recounted last time. The rest, eleven companies under Harme, marched west to St Peter where the remains of the Royalist army, reinforced by some further militia, had established their camp.

Block was not keen to assault the village and so attempted to persuade the Royalists to disperse peacefully. After a few dice rolls, Sir George was found to be amenable to surrendering, but his second in command, and commander of the garrison dragoons, Captain James, was not. An altercation took place, as recounted above, and the negotiations were rejected.

This left the Royalists with six militia companies and one of dragoons to face the eleven companies of the New Model Army. Everyone had heard the shooting from further south, actually only about a mile away, but no one knew the outcome.

Block decided to use his numerical superiority to outflank the village on his left, while ‘entertaining’ the enemy in the centre and on the right. James had deployed his own dragoons in the marshy ground in front of the village, lined the stream with musketeers and deployed the rest of the militia in the built-up area, except for the reserve, St Saviour’s militia.

The photograph above shows progress. The Commonwealth left hook is advancing while the centre is engaging the dragoons and St Helier militia in the village. The Commonwealth right is also advancing into position, slightly delayed. James has started to move the reserve to assist his own right.

The resulting fight was quite tough for the Commonwealth side. Musketeers holding built-up areas are quite hard to beat either by shooting or assault. The Commonwealth centre was twice bounced back from entering the village, and the left hook only slowly made progress, while the right did not really get into a great deal of action until late in the battle. The Royalist dragoons were quite quickly disposed of, however (some bad dice rolling there) but Block struggled to get his men moving.

The above shows the action just before the end of the game. The Commonwealth left is now in action having routed the St Saviour militia, and St Peter’s militia is now under pressure although relatively secure in the village. The Commonwealth right is trading shots with the Royalists across the stream, while Block is lining up another assault on the village.

As it happens the assault went in from the Commonwealth companies to the left of the village first followed by the frontal assault by the two companies with Block attached. The result saw the first St Helier militia company destroyed, quickly followed (in the follow-up advance) by the second company (a really bad dice roll). This included Captain James as a casualty. The Royalist centre was no more and, in fact, they only had three bases out of the original seven left on the table.

An army morale test was necessary, which, after the dice roll, left a total of minus four. So far as I recall that is the lowest morale for an army I have seen using my rules, and so the Royalists, or what was left of them, fled.

As I mentioned, this was a tougher fight than I had anticipated for the Commonwealth. Block had to get stuck into command in rallying his men and leading them forward again when they had been forced back from the original assaults on the village. In the later part of the game he also suffered from having too little tempo to being his units back into combat and thus utilize his numerical advantage to the full. A three-against-one assault against a built-up area can succeed. A two against one, I discovered, does not. That does seem about right to me. The assault (or shooters) have to get really lucky to damage the defenders.

Nevertheless, under my campaign rules, all the Royalist units involved have now dispersed and nothing lies between Block and St Helier. At sea, the navies are in sight of each other, but the wind is against the Royalists at present so unless the Commonwealth fleet decides to attack them in the narrow channels off St Aubin’s Bay I am not sure they will come to blows. The Commonwealth fleet’s orders are to find a safe anchorage to land the cavalry, not to engage the enemy fleet, after all.


‘Good afternoon, Sir George.’


‘I am so pleased to accept your surrender, but why were you not commanding your troops.’

‘I would have surrendered before, but the dragoon captain arrested me and would fight.’

‘Ah, so this afternoon's fracas is not your fault?’

‘No, but he wouldn’t accept we had lost. Still, there was a lot of musketry and not much loss of life.’

‘And where were you, Sir George, while the fight was going on?’

‘In church, of course. Praying for a miracle.’

‘It would seem Captain James is dead.’

‘My prayers might have been answered.’

‘You are free to go, Sir George, on parole.’

Saturday, 5 November 2022

Bayoneting the Wounded

Before you ask, it is an old joke, to do with what auditors do: after the battle, the auditors arrive and… I did not say it was a good joke, and of course, the number of auditors who read this blog will now have plummeted to an all-time low.

Still, I received a challenge a bit ago to count all my little men. That challenge has not been met, because I have not counted my engineers, civilians, buildings, assorted fortifications, siege guns, and so on, but in part, I have done the arithmetic and there is a result:


There you are. That is quite a few little men (all painted, to differing degrees of niceness).

Now there is of course more detail, but those of you who are not detail people, like politicians who are uninterested in how their policies are to be paid for, can stop reading now. Those of you who are thinking ‘Wow, that’s a lot of soldiers and far more than I will ever have’ can reflect on the fact that most of them are 6 mm tall (there are, I think, 25 25+ mm ECW infantry) and that I have been collecting them for nearly thirty years.

The number also puts into perspective the 842 unpainted little men I have in stock, which is a mere 6% or so of the total. So I have not been buying randomly and hoarding the results until wargamer’s honesty took over and I had to admit the numbers left to paint. I have painted the vast majority of my acquisitions.

To the detail, then. The above total consists of 5773 ancients figures and 8118 early modern (and late medieval) figures. It is not, of course, quite that simple. I have counted, for example, a Hussite war wagon as a single figure; in reality, there are quite a few figures associated with it. Similarly with the guns and rowing boats and chariots and so on. But anyway, that is the rough breakdown.

I confess to being a little surprised. Not only was the Estimable Mrs P’s estimate of ‘about 12,000’ alarmingly close to the mark, but I have a good deal more ancients figures than I thought I did. Or at least, the proportion of ancients in the total is higher than I would have guessed. The early moderns got about a ten-year head start over the ancients, so I would have thought that I would have far more of the former than the latter.

The funny thing is that I play more early modern games than ancients. When I do go back to the Greeks or the Romans I do enjoy the games, I admit, but often I decide to break out another late Sixteenth Century game rather than pull out the legions or hoplites. I am not sure why. I started ‘serious’ wargaming with the English Civil war, so maybe it is the pull of those times when life was simpler and a box of Peter Laing figures took a couple of days to appear in the letterbox and might be there after the second post if not initially. I am really showing my age now….

Looking at the ancients figures I find that the Macedonians and Successors box has the largest number of figures with 571. This is mostly accounted for by pikemen, whom I took up basing 16 to a stand. They look good but I tend not to repeat that too often, because it is an awful lot of pikemen to paint (OK, I have done the same for the ECW foot). The other reason is that the depth of the figures on the base is too big for the scale of the bases. Thin red lines (or wavy arrays of pikes) were thin compared to their widths, and I try to reproduce that. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.

The biggest army in terms of bases is, in fact, the Early Imperial Romans (they come second in figure numbers), with the Celts not far behind. The Celts have far fewer figures, due to more skirmishers, light horse and chariots. They are followed by the Greeks, who get a lot of hoplites, of course, but not so many cavalry.

The total is 1100 bases or so. Given that my normal wargame consists of twenty bases a side, this means I can field 55 armies or 27.5 wargames at the same time. This is of course arrant nonsense, and I am slowly discovering that even with my small tables I can field forty bases a side at least and not prop the flanks on the table edge. On the other hand, more soldiers on the table do not make a better game necessarily.

The Early Modern totals are in the table. The storage works slightly differently, so I cannot really say which nation is in front. In general, the ECW is the most likely, although, as you can see and has been noted, there are an awful lot of Aztecs there. There are also a lot of Scots and Irish, mostly because the Scots include Montrose’s highlanders and the Irish include C 16 armies as well as ECW era.

I am not trying to show off how many toys or armies I have. Most of them were collected for a specific purpose over the years. A lot of the south and south-east Asians were bought (and very hurriedly and badly painted) for my 1618-Something campaign when it expanded east. Mind you, I do like the odd elephant on a battlefield.

What, you might ask, is next? Well, I keep promising myself that less painting and more wargames are the order of the day for the next period. I have around 840 mostly ancients to go, and then 550 or so medieval plastics that keep appearing in my memory. Actually, they are in a box in the box room which was tidied out recently. The Estimable Mrs P inquired whether I had plans for them. ‘Oh yes,’ I replied. ‘Next year.’ Talk about giving hostages to fortune.