Monday 17 October 2016

Society of Ancients Conference

This weekend I went to the Society of Ancients Conference, the first for almost 25 years. The venue was an enormous hotel/conference palace in Warwickshire, which seemed to be a reasonable geographic location. The folks from furthest afield came from Stonehaven in the north and Brussels a bit farther south. A good time was had by all, in a mix of talks and various types of gaming sessions. I did a talk on Shakespeare's representations of Roman warfare as a precursor to my rather large recreation of Philippi. A few taster photos:
Above is the view from the camp of Antonius. Big swamp to the right, and a relatively shallow deployment of legionaries on the other side of a stream. In the distance is the palisaded wall that Cassius built from his camp to the swamp, to try to stop Antonius outflanking him. Antonius has local superiority, with all three of his veteran legions massed for the assault.
A shot of Cassius and his camp, positioned in the centre left of his array. The legion with the white shields is veteran. There are also a few casualty markers waiting for the inevitable at the back.
A side shot of the table, looking from off to Antonius' right flank. Antonius is leading with his right! I don't have the nineteen legions I would have needed to play this half of the battle correctly - and yes, that's right, this is only half of the first battle of Philippi. Off the far end, on the other side of the Via Egnatia, is the struggle between Octavius and Brutus, which we play next.
Brutus' left rests on the Via Egnatia itself. In the distance are the legionaries of the hated Octavius.
Hated so much, in fact, that Brutus' legions down pila and charge straight towards them. The hamster bedding denotes the dust thrown up by the charge, and also extra charge effect for the troops.
The far right of Brutus' army is in the open, and both sides have cavalry deployed here. The Caesareans, to the right of the photo, have larger units of horse, while Brutus has some supporting light infantry. Stretching off into the distance you can see more dust clouds.

These two battles were played as separate halves; Antonius against Cassius in the morning, and Octavius and Brutus in the afternoon, since I don't have 38 legions or whatever it was. Strangely enough, both times saw a historical result, which is rather gratifying with a large (and unpredictable!) game. Antonius' veterans stormed across the stream between the camp of Cassius and the marsh, and Cassius tried to shore up his central legions with his presence - which they ignored completely and ran for it, sweeping him with them. Antonius' far left was slightly weakened, and he lost a legion there, but even so it was a pretty emphatic victory overall. In the other half, the charge of Brutus' incensed troops helped them to the victory there, and the same thing happened to Octavius as he was swept away in exactly the same fashion as Cassius on the other side of the field. Having 14 legions meant that the game was not as large as it needed to be to give even more historical flavour, so I compensated. The Republican legions were understrength compared to their Caesarean opponents, so I ruled that in effect their cohorts had seven figures instead of the usual eight. This was compensated by the stream in the first game and the impetuous attack in the second. Both were hard fought contests, with many legionaries falling on both sides, but overall the victories felt about right.

On the Saturday evening we had the Society dinner, which was a rather jovial event, and Will Whyler gave a nice speech about his feelings as a longstanding member, along with some compliments about Slingshot, which was nice to hear.

We then resumed on the Sunday morning, with the clincher between Brutus and Antonius, as indeed was the case historically, since the second battle of Philippi occurred three weeks after the first. I had no particular plans for this one, the intention always having been to fight the two victors against each other. And if they happened to be from the same initial sides, the idea would be to see who won the next, inevitable, civil war. Having a historical result really did seem appropriate. I asked Will to draw up a plan for Antonius, although he wasn't able to play (too many goodies going on elsewhere), while Geoff Fabron gave me a deployment and played as Brutus. I ruled that each side had six legions plus cavalry and, in the case of Brutus, some light infantry.
Antonius again leads with his right, this time composed of a powerful cavalry force: Numidians, Iberians, Equites and more Iberians as you look at it from the left. I swapped some of the units around a bit to make them more colourful after taking this shot, but I hope it gives a sense of what he wanted.
Antonius' centre is a symmetrical alignment of four legions in triplex acies with one veteran legion to either side in duplex. The shot above shows his left wing, a weaker cavalry wing that is mainly intended to be a blocking force,
Unfortunately for them, though, this is what they are up against: all of the Republican massed cavalry with light infantry support. There is a unit of Parthians, two of Galatians, and one of Roman Equites.
Brutus' deployment was different again from that of Antonius, as I hope you can see from the shot above, taken from off to the left of Brutus' army. Antonius is on the left as you look at it, Brutus on the right. The Republican had a powerful force of four legions in triplex acies right next to his cavalry attack, with a partially refused centre left/left wing of two legions in duplex acies and, finally, some Parthian light horse archers.

There is actually some reasoning behind the way I ran all of this. I already knew beforehand that the first battle would have the most terrain and scenery, so when we arrived on the Friday evening (thanks to Roy!), I set up Antonius versus Cassius first. This had the advantage of getting all of the figures on the table while also being the most straightforward of the three contests: an infantry clash with no cavalry present. Set-up for the second battle was much less time-consuming, as was the third. Brutus against Octavius saw the addition of some cavalry and light infantry, while the third battle added in some light horse and free deployments. In other words, it was a good way for the players to learn the rules step by step as they went. By the middle of the second battle, the game was pretty much running itself, and I was only called upon to help out if a tricky multi-unit melee appeared, or in cavalry actions. We had six players in game one, eight in game two, and six in games three (although not quite always the same players throughout), including me as the poor Republican senator tasked with holding Antonius' cavalry attack on the left of Brutus' army.

Needless to say, I failed, but it was incredibly close. Both right wings won, and each army lost two legions are their extreme left. Both then also lost a legion in the centre. Finally, with a great shout, Antonius broke through in the very centre of the field and the day was his - another historical result. I know I'm the one who set it up, but it was a great game, with swings of fortune throughout until the last die roll.

Giving a talk and then running three 3-hour battles was a bit tiring, but fun. It meant I didn't get to see much of the rest of the conference events, mainly because in between times I was busy setting up for the next fight, but I did get to go to Matt Bennett's talk on Arsuf, which is going to be the subject of the next Battle Day in 2017. I'll go to that, and fortunately it isn't one I could run, so I can join in with someone else this time.

Finally, a big thank you to our players:

Battle 1: Tom Ashworth as Antonius, and Nick Higby and John Drewienkiewicz as his fellow Caesareans; and Will Whyler as Cassius, together with those famous Republicans John Hastings and Bill Pavely.
Battle 2: The Caesareans were the same players, with the addition of David Marks, while the Republicans were played by John Hastings, Tom Marks, Terry Shoebridge, and Geoff Fabron as Brutus. Tom Ashworth got to be Octavius, after his earlier win as Antonius, but a repeat victory was not to be.
Battle 3: Will Whyler set up the Caesareans, although Antonius was played by Malcolm Williams. Tom Ashworth and Nick Higby again played as Caesareans, meaning that they played all three games on the same side. Opposing them were Geoff Fabron as Brutus again, along with John Hastings and myself. So John played as a Republican in all three games, and Geoff was Brutus in person for two of them.

I did award Malcolm with a commemorative Caesar figure for coming out on top as Antonius, but I would like to send one each to Tom and Nick for being such good sports in what I think was their first ancients game - a fitting memento. I just need to get my act together!

Octavius, of course, was last seen hiding in a swamp. Even so, Antonius had better watch his back...

Sunday 9 October 2016


Loads and loads of it, and nice and cheap and nasty it is too:
Take one large artificial topiary ball from Homebase. Cost me a whole £19.99, this did.
Pull out the plastic bits, like this. They come out with little rounded bases that you then chop.
There's loads of them. Enough to do a swamp and a river and then some.

Celtiberian Cavalry

By Companion Miniatures, courtesy of Mike Adams in the US:
Well armoured and brightly coloured, these are the aristocracy of the Celtiberian tribes that gave Rome such a hard time for centuries.
They are the armoured versions of the figures I used for my Iberian cavalry. I mixed and matched the various types of shields depending on what I had left over in the way of LBMS transfers. I gave the standard bearer a captured Roman shield.
They will see action as part of the hordes of auxiliary horse that were present at the Battle of Philippi, when I run it at the Society of Ancients conference next weekend.
An overhead shot to show the basing. This completes the figures - now I need to get on with more of the scenery and terrain!

Palisade Fencing

The conspirators threw up a copious amount of woodwork at Philippi. Not only did they have two hilltop camps, they also built a connecting covered walkway of some sort between them. Also, when Cassius finally realised that Antonius was trying to put a causeway through the marsh, he then built another palisade to intercept the Caesarean's efforts.
Almost none of this actually mattered when it came to the battle itself, but it does present something of a logistical challenge when constructing the battlefield. I have a whole load of Renedra plastic palisade fencing, so it's time to get gluing...
...and painting...
...and highlighting. This isn't going to look like the quality one expects from Roman legions, but on the day it didn't seem to present much of a problem to Antonius' troops. Therefore, rough and ready is the name of the game. Besides, building almost four metres of good quality work will cost a fortune! The good thing about all of this effort is that it will make the battlefield into something much more interesting than the usual billiard table. If I ever do this again I'll add in little camp vignettes and random scenes behind the lines, but this will do for now.

Saturday 8 October 2016

A causeway through the marsh

In the move and move and counter-move sequence prior to the Battle of Philippi, Antonius put a causeway through the large marsh to the right of the Caesarean army. This would enable his forces to outflank those of Cassius opposite him, and also incidentally threaten to cut the conspirators off from the sea.
These are Renedra stone wall pieces painted brown and stuck onto some Big Red Bat bases. My kids say they look like chocolate rice crispies cakes.
How they look after a bit of highlighting. Rice crispies with more sugar...
Add some cheap brown gunk courtesy of Wilko, and there you have it: a bed of stones with packed earth to move legionaries through a swamp.

Saturday 1 October 2016

A few Celtiberian horsemen and some Roman casualties. Also just finished is a legate for one of the legions.
Almost finished a unit of 18 Celtiberian cavalry, courtesy of swap with Mike Adams in the USA. These are Companion Miniatures figures, and are very rare indeed. I already have 36 painted as Iberians, so I gave these ones a wider range of colours and shields to make them a bit more rough and ready. They also have quite a bit or armour, as well as the obligatory head trophies dangling from the horses.

A great big swamp

There is quit a bit of scenery and terrain to prepare for my Philippi project, due to run at the Society of Ancients conference in two weeks' time. If I do a bit at a time I should get through it. First up is the large swamp that lay to the right of Marcus Antonius' deployment.
Above is a large translucent sheet I found lying on the ground at work. It is clear on one side and matt on the other, with a 'frame' of magnetic strip. I think it must have come from a poster or something like that, and it was bit badly damaged and battered by the time I got to it. But I have a cunning plan...

I managed to salvage two sections, the plan being to place them together to make swamp around 3' by 1'. Above is what one of the sections looks like with a first coat of cheap and nasty brown paint on the matt side.

How it looks after adding another coat of a different shade
Turn it over, and the gloss side shows up with a watery sheen. It's still not perfect, but with bits of scatter it should look okay on the tabletop. It will sit on top of my teddy bear fur mat, and so should look the part on the day. That's the plan anyway...