In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Hail Caesar Army List Book 2: a review

Hail Caesar Army Lists: Late Antiquity to Early Medieval
by Rick Priestley
Warlord Games Ltd. 2012
84pp paperback
GBP 18.00 (CDN$29.00)
This just arrived in my mail box for review. It's a welcome addition to the Hail Caesar rules. The late antiquity and early medieval eras being very popular with a lot of wargamers. I would hazard a guess that they are even more popular than the Classical Era covered in the first book (except the Romans and their enemies). There does seem to be a resurgent interest in Vikings and Saxons at least and the Later Roman Empire is a perrenial favourite.
Or maybe I just say that because I like the time span covered myself. I think I have at least 4 armies for this book and I suspect I could use the stats from the "Later Welsh" and "Plantagenet English" lists to work up some later Medieval lists as well.
The following armys are included:
  • Palmyran
  • Middle Imperial Roman
  • Sassanid Persian
  • Goths
  • Early Saxon
  • Franks
  • Huns
  • Late Imperial Roman
  • African Vandals
  • White Huns
  • Gepids
  • Spanish Visigoths
  • Italian Ostrogoths
  • Early Byzantine
  • Lombards
  • Scots-Irish
  • Arthurian British
  • Welsh
  • Merovingian Franks
  • Avars
  • Picts
  • Khazars
  • Arab Conquest
  • Bulgars
  • Tang China
  • Thematic Byzantines
  • Arab Empire
  • Carolingian Franks
  • Pecheng
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Rus
  • Vikings
  • Almoravid MoorsFatamid Egypt
  • Tagmatic Byzantine
  • Al-Andalus
  • Christian Spanish
  • Ghaznavid
  • Liao China and Kara-Khitan Khaganate
  • Norman
  • Seljuk Turks
  • Feudal French
  • Feudal German
  • Feudal Polish
  • Early Hungarian
  • Ayyubid Egyptian
  • Sung China
  • Italo-Norman
  • Feudal Scots
  • Early Russian
  • Khwarazmian Persian
  • Commenian Byzantine
  • Burid and Zengid Syria
  • Japanese
  • Plantagenet English
  • Lombard League
  • Crusaders
  • Later Welsh
  • Teutonic Crusaders
  • Mongol
Some of these, like Ghaznavids or Khitan-Liao, I doubt are seen outside of Society of Ancients tournaments, but Mr. Priestley is trying to cover the most popular armies already out there so people can play with what they already have rather than only focusing on what Warlord Games sells. Plus the kingdoms of ancient Central Asia did field some very visually attractive and interesting armies. I think a campaign setting between rival city states could be amusing and refreshingly unfettered by too much background knowledge like when you try to do a similar game set in Medieval Europe.

Most of the army lists are one page. A few are two pages long. Each list has a brief overview to set the context and give the thoughts behind the list. Then there is the table of composition guidelines letting you know how much of your army should be the major troop types (a random example from the Feudal French list; "Cavalry 25%+" At least a quarter of your units must be cavalry, followed by "Knights 50%+ of cavalry" so at least half of your units of cavalry must be knights). This is then followed by the table of Troop Values letting you know among other things that the aforementioned knights are Clash 9 Sustained 6 SR 3/0 LR 0 Save 4+ and Stamina 6 with the 'Eager' rule. You can also upgrade them to 'wild fighters' and 'stubborn' if the horses are armoured. Sergeants are much the same but without the 'eager' and 'wild fighter' rules.

Even without resorting to the points values I've found the previous volume very useful. Having some pre-established Troop Values to work from speeds up getting the game going. I find I just don't have the spare time these days to work up new troop values for every scenario.

So let's take a look at a couple of my oldest armies; Sassanid Persians and Late Imperial Romans. I always start with the core units and build around them, letting their number determine how much of everything else I can take.

50%+  of my Persian army has to be cavalry and up to half of that can be the Savaran heavies.

I like clibanari and cataphracts a lot so why wouldn't I?

Right 4 units of Savaran heavies with kontos and bow (36 pts) it is then. I'll upgrade two units to 'elite' (+3 ea). So now I've got to pick 4 assorted units of light cavalry with javelins and bows (21 pts ea).

With 8 units of cavalry I can now choose up to 8 units of infantry. Remember the size of the unit is up to you. My heavy cavalry are in units of 6 figures and the light cavalry are 'small' units so only 4 figures on the same frontage. Infantry are composed of 12 figures. The list gives a generous choice in how to depict Sassanid infantry (about which there is considerable debate). You can go with the old WRG medium infantry levy rubbish, or just plain medium spearmen or a mixed spear and bow unit. You can also portray up to 25% of them as heavy infantry if that's the way you want to go. I'm going to go with 4 units of medium spearmen (23 pts) and 4 units of archers (21 pts). I'll support my cavalry with 4 small units of skirmishers with javelins (11 pts) and slings (12 pts). 10% of my units can be elephants so I'll take two of those please (24 pts). Divisional commanders are free. If my math is correct that comes to 504 pts for a nice little army.

I'll group the cavalry into two divisions on the wings, each of 2 units of Savaran and 2 light cavalry with a unit of skirmishers. The infantry will be in one big division in the center. Medium spearmen up front supported by the archers behind. Screened in front by the rest of the skirmishers and the elephants.

I can see already that I need to add some more medium spear and archers to my collection if I want to field the rest of my heavy cavalry!

Next up the Romans:

At least 25% of the army must be infantry and another 25% must be cavalry. Pretty straight forward and leaves you lots of flexibility.

The infantry core will be some Legio Comitenses; heavy infantry with heavy throwing weapons and spears, armour, and drilled. 4 units. 32 pts each. I'll add in a unit of Scholae Palatina who are 'drilled, elite and brave' for 35 pts. I'm going to support these with 5 small units of light infantry archers at 14 pts each. So that's 233 pts on my infantry.

For the cavalry we'll start with 4 units of regular medium cavalry with javelins (27 pts). Two units of heavy cavalry (30 pts). I'll upgrade one unit to cataphracts with kontos (+4 pts). 3 small units of horse archers (19 pts). This leaves me with 40 points to buy some artillery or more auxiliary troops or upgrade the ones I have.

I did think the lack of barbaric auxiliaries other than Huns was an odd omission but that can be easily fixed by flipping the page to the Goth or Frankish army list if you want to add a division of Feoderati. The lack of distinction between Auxilia and Legionaries is covered in the discussion of the Middle Empire list, but the stats for Light Infantry Lanciarii could just as easily be used for Auxilia Palatina.

The lists all seem pretty straightforward. Some of the differences are quite subtle; Norman knights can have 'tough fighters' and 'frenzied charge' but Feudal French knights get 'eager' and 'wild fighters'. Both troops otherwise have the same basic stat line. German feudal knights don't get any special rules until they upgrade to armoured horses and become 'stubborn'. The Army Composition Guidelines push the player to reasonably balanced orders of battle. You can have your elite supertroopers (usually limited to one unit) but you have to take the right proportion of spear fodder too.

The eye candy is also nice. There are lots of pictures of Phil Hendry's inspiring Middle Imperial army, which I'd love to duplicate someday.

If you want to do your own research and develope your own army lists, by all means do so and save yourself the money, but for the rest of us this is a highly useful and recommended resource for our Hail Caesar games. This is now available in my store for $29.00.

I should add that even though my name appears in the credits in this book I did not do anything that I know of, unless some of my comments on the Hail Caesar Yahoo Group were particularly useful. I did help proof read a draft of the first volume and I assume they cut and pasted the text while doing the layout for the second. It is a small matter, but I don't want anyone to think my objectivity has been corrupted.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What I Did On My Summer Holidays

I spent 10 glorious and fun filled days at sunny and exotic CFB Borden playing Army complete with heat, dust, rain, drizzle, ration packs, mosquitoes and black flies. Fortunately my buddy took along his Smartphone and shared his pictures with me. They should all be clickable to 'enbiggen'.

I had wanted to take my LETC (Land Element Training Course) at the end of the summer, but they loaded me on this one and work was OK with me going, so off I went. I'm glad I did too. I knew half the course already from my previous two courses and I think I'm better off for reconnecting with them rather than missing the chance. My previous courses were on weekends but this was a straight 10 day bash full of navigation and field craft.

To be honest I was a bit intimidated. I was worried my back and neck would undo me and that I just wouldn't be able to keep up. But it wasn't the RCR Battle School so there were no 10 km ruck marches. And to be honest, on my course was a grandmother with a really bad back and another fellow with some seriously bad knees. They toughed it out, so I told myself to suck it up and keep going.

The first half of the course was all in class theory and we were quartered in the commodious modular tentage at CSTC ("Cadet Summer Training Center") Blackdown. It had been raining the day we arrived and there were damp spots in the tents and the electricity didn't work. They smelled of damp, mildew and many summers worth of smelly  13 year olds. I missed the old wooden fire trap H-huts we used at Camp Ipperwash when I was a young cadet. In the middle of each company lines was a big cement building with the toilets, showers, sinks and laundry plus company offices. One had to put on a robe and sandals to go to the bathroom but the facilities, once you got to them, were unarguably superior to what I had to use when I was a cadet. So I didn't miss Ipperwash quite as much any more. The food had also improved, although a breakfast sausage did break one of my course mate's dentures!

So we settled in for 4 days of knot tying, map and compass, GPS navigation, principles of trekking, radio procedures and how to pack your gear preparing for our 4 days in the bush putting all of this to practical use. While there we got to see someone else training. Here's the OPP Riot Squad taking turns throwing sticks at each other:
2012-06-05 13.53.14

So on an overcast day with scattered showers off we set with rather heavy rucksacks into the sandy pinewoods of the Blackdown ranges to put our knowledge to use.
2012-06-06 09.46.56
Colleague with his ruck
We geocached our way to the bivouac site. Geocaching is being promoted by the Army Cadets as a fun way to confirm GPS navigation skills. We then had to learn some of the basics like; how to make a hoochie with shelter halves and how to eat an MRE. All basic Green Star stuff (that's a first year cadet to those who have never seen one before), but there are a few CIC officers who weren't in cadets when they were younger so never got a chance to learn this stuff. Of course one of my friends had spent 11 years in the Permanent Force so he's pretty much figured how to eat an MRE (i.e. a ration pack; "Meal Ready to Eat" or "Meal Rejected by Ethiopian" if you're feeling cynical). I've eaten a few myself but even so I manged to learn a few tricks to make them more palatable, like putting your "Wheat Bread Snack" in the pot to warm up before opening the pouch. It can be very unsettling to get Chicken Pesto Pasta for breakfast, but if you want to get the sausage patty and hash browns arrive promptly when cook shouts that the rations are heated. Although the oatmeal isn't totally horrible even though most pass it over.
2012-06-06 19.00.38
A 'hoochie'
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more of the bivouac site
2012-06-08 07.36.13
My syndicate, that's my hooch on the right and my tent mate gazing smokily at the camera
2012-06-06 19.03.10
The modular tent that was our classroom, mess hall and post for night time radio watch if the weather was bad.
While we were bivouacking I heard one of my colleagues comment "You know, this is a lot of fun without the cadets." To which someone else replied "Yeah. It's called 'camping'." But I get their point; with a group of adults who could all keep their kit organized, pick up after themselves and act responsibly it was a fun time. Throw in a bunch of 13 year olds and it becomes a lot of work to keep the site tidy and the kids clean and safe.
2012-06-06 19.02.40
Another colleague models the Cadpat while pondering the bivouac. He's a decorated veteran of Cyprus and had been deployed to Norway with 1RCR back in the 80s. He thought we had too much useless stuff in our rucks.
On two nights we got a break from the MREs and very nice dinners were brought out to us in 'hay boxes' (big thermos boxes that the trays for the steam tables could slide into). The quality of food was so good I thought we were getting it from the Officer's Mess but it was prepared by the same mess we'd been eating at while in garrison.

Naturally there was lots of good natured jocularity, a few shenanigans and singing along with the music from people's smartphones. The in-joke of the course was referencing German Sparkle Party by The Something Experience.
2012-06-08 07.32.41
I think they were singing along to "Georgie Girl"
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Even the ropes we used to practice our knots and lashings could be put to comic effect
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"Team Princess" the other half of my syndicate, a pair of very smart and capable young ladies who were excellent neighbours.
Just as I was getting used to sleeping in the hoochie we then had to strike camp, move across the road and build another bivouac site using improvised shelters. That certainly helped practice the lashings part of our training. It rained that night, and although I dreaded it, it was a good test. My lean to only leaked a little bit and nothing important got wet, although between worrying about the rain and a shift on radio watch meant I only got about 2 hours sleep.
2012-06-08 20.31.04
Some of the girls and their lean to.
I passed all my PPCs ('Practical Performance Check' i.e. a test) easily. Actually knots and lashings gave me the biggest worry. Before this course I couldn't tell a bowline from a fisherman's and now I even know when they're supposed to be used. The Navigation and Radio Procedure PPC was a dawdle. I kept getting easy legs of the course so it would've been hard work to get lost and I didn't draw a blank when having to make use of my phonetic alphabet.

I said to my Syndicate Commander during my mid course interview that I was "having a blast and felt like a cadet again." This course brought back all the things I loved about being in cadets. We also had a seminar about the new and expanded Expedition Training Program with Cadets, which is a Good Thing in my opinion. You want kids with self esteem? Teach them how to live in improvised shelters, read a map, do a trek and maybe climb a mountain, then you'll have kids with good self esteem.

We then finished up with a 5 km hike disguised as a route recce to prepare for taking a group of cadets on the same route. Look for hazards, look for points of interest, what age group would you take on this route etc. etc. I took the opportunity to play with the GPS some more. That gave me my first and last blister of the week.

Once back in garrison we got to clean up and have an end of course social and steak barbecue. The Blackdown Officer's Mess (closed up in the off season) was opened up for our use so we could drink some beer and play some crud.
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Playing crud. Brent is demonstrating the important part of the game
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End of course. Cleaned  up and ready to go home.
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All smiles now.
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The other half of "Team Manley" and nominated the 'Sexiest Beret in NATO'

I think I learned as much from my course mates as I did from the instructors. The friend on the right could be very dignified and correct, modelling the stereotypical 'officer and gentlemen' one minute and then burst into a silly song to cheer us all up the next. The friend on the left had soldiered all over the world in his Reg Force days and was always able to steer me back on track (usually with some well placed sarcasm, but we all came to appreciate his sarcastic wit) when I was getting distracted by stupid things that didn't matter.
2012-06-08 07.34.58
Two guys I learned a lot from.
So there you have my summer holidays. I relearned some things I'd forgotten, learned some new stuff, reconnected with old friends and made new ones. The blisters and mosquito bites have healed up and now I wish I could do it again.