Sunday, 2 August 2020

Great Wargaming Survey

It is on again! Karwansaray publishers are running the seventh edition of their Great Wargaming Survey, under the banner of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine.

Many, perhaps most, readers of this blog may well have completed the questionnaire in previous years—I found out about it in 2017, so have been a data point in the past three.

There are questions about how much you spend on wargaming-related purchases, preferred eras, scale of miniatures, size of games, aspects of the hobby that you most enjoy, how often you wargame, sources of inspiration, plus a bit of demographic info. so that responses can be categorised by the country in which you live, your age and gender. All responses are anonymous.

This year features a heap of 'thank yous' for people who complete the questionnaire. Everyone receives a 20% discount coupon with Karwansaray plus free access to a pdf of an article from each of nine issues of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy ("Aspern-Essling in 6mm", "Brécourt Manor 1944", "My kingdom for a horse", "Storage Wars", "Fair Play", "Ptolemies vs Seleucids", "Fury!", "Getting back in the saddle", "Putting theory into practice").

There is also the chance to win one of a number of prizes "thanks to our gracious sponsors":

One set of Baccus rules
One box set and one starter set from Battlefront Miniatures
One plastic box set from Gripping Beast
Two sets of Osprey Wargames rules
Two books from Pen & Sword
A 10mm starter army from Pendraken Miniatures
Two GBP30 vouchers from Sarissa Precision
One full bundle of Infamy, Infamy, or Chain of Command, or Sharp Practice 2 from TooFatLardies
Two plastic box sets from Wargames Atlantic
One plastic box set and one starter set from Warlord Games
Three one-year subscriptions to a Karwansaray Publishers magazine

This year's questionnaire includes a series of questions that are linked to further study by psychologist Dr Robert Körner and colleagues who recently had a paper entitled 'Who commands the little soldiers?' published in the Journal of Individual Differences. Sadly, this paper is not freely available, but here is the abstract:

The popularity of miniature wargames (MWGs) has recently been on the rise. We aimed to identify the personality characteristics of people who play MWGs. Whereas the popular media have suspected that fantasy role-playing and war-related games cause antisocial behavior, past research on tabletop role-playing has shown that gamers are creative and empathetic individuals. Previous studies have investigated pen-and-paper tabletop games, which require imagination and cooperation between players. Tabletop MWGs are somewhat different because players compete against each other, and there is a strong focus on war-related actions. Thus, people have voiced the suspicion that players of this type of game may be rather aggressive. In the present study, 250 male MWG players completed questionnaires on the Big Five, authoritarianism, risk-orientation, and motives as well as an intelligence test. The same measures were administered to non- gamers, tabletop role-playing gamers, and first-person shooter gamers. Results indicated that according to self-reports, MWG players are more open, more extraverted, and have a higher need for affiliation than non-gamers. Further, high scores on reasoning and low scores on authoritarianism were typical of MWG players, and MWG players were similar to other gamers on these characteristics. All in all, our findings show that despite their penchant for (re)-enacting war scenes, MWG players seem to be open, nonauthoritarian individuals. Future research may add to these findings by using observer reports and longitudinal research to better understand whether intelligent and nontraditional people are attracted to MWGs or whether the setting of MWGs supports the development of such traits.

The following note is included on the page of the Great Wargaming Survey featuring these questions:

"Any responses will be supplied to him strictly anonymized. If you are uncomfortable answering any of these questions, please skip to the next page."

It was fun to answer these questions and to know that the data will be part of a specific study, though a shame that the original paper was not 'open access'. Perhaps Karwansaray could feature a layman's version that will be available to all?
[Having now read the paper, the responses from the Great Wargaming Survey should add greatly to this study. The original featured respondents from Germany and those classified in the 'miniature wargames group' nominated Warhammer 40,000 (31.2%), Freebooters Fate (16.8%), Star Wars X-Wing (6.8%), Bolt Action (6.0%), Warmachine & Hordes (4.8%), and Infinity (4.0%) as games of choice. It will be interesting to see a comparison of these results with responses from other countries and players of historical wargames.]

The 2020 edition of the Great Wargaming Survey is open until the end of August.

Results from previous years of the Great Wargaming Survey are available publicly on Karwansaray's website.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

No Te Deum this time: Prince Eugene vs Marshall Vendôme at Luzzara

The evening of 15 August, 1702, Prince Eugene struck at the encamped French army, intending to surprise them and inflict a decisive defeat, sufficient to end the Italian campaign in one stroke. Historically, the battle was indecisive, although French casualties were twice those of the Imperial forces. What would our refight bring?

Here, the historical battle, the Prince in the foreground, Luzzara in the background.

The Battle of Luzzara, 1702

From Nafziger, it is possible to derive the Imperial army list, but unfortunately, that of their opponents has been lost to history.

Here, the historical deployment:

Generally we are reluctant to adjust dice rolls in the Zimmermann rules we use for 18thC battles, but as all the historical sources agree that the Imperial forces enjoyed better provisioning and higher morale, we allowed a +1 for the Imperial unit starting morale. Starting morale is of course often dwarfed by the results of encounters, but it was at least a gesture to history.

And here, our battle - my favourite historical period, and therefore a delight for me to see - about to commence. To the right, the small town of Luzzara, with Marshal Vendôme ensconced in the tower, protected by a reserve battalion, with two lines of infantry with 'before them many ditches, and fences made with trees'. Massed cavalry to their left, and in the distance, to their right also, with in addition a number of infantry battalions. On the left, the Imperial army about to cross the difficult terrain between the canal and the town, in two lines, the left under Visconti and the Prince of Commercy, the right under Vaudémont,with Prince Eugene in command in the centre.

As Vendôme my plan was to be a little more aggressive than he was historically; I pinned my hopes on a combined arms attack on my own right flank, hoping only to hold my left and to blunt the Imperial attack in the centre with what I hoped would be a simply devastating - but rather bold - concentration of my entire artillery right at the tip of the spear, the most advanced part of the French position. 

Nothing very exceptional, by the end of Move One, except that the French artillery were already telling heavily on the exposed Imperial lines making their way slowly across the dense terrain.

And really not much more by the end of Move 2, as the cavalry on each flank prepared to engage.

Two hours had elapsed, and both sides would be forgiven for thinking that the battle that was about to be fought would be both long and indecisive.

By the end of Move 3, the cavalry clash on the left flank, though the French had won, seemed to have set them up for the loss of their entire flank. All three victorious units had lost heavily, and if they were defeated, there was a very real chance that their comrades behind them would not stay to continue the fight.

But notice the depletion in Imperial cavalry strength; and notice too the potentially exposed Imperial infantry to the left of Sereni's and Vaubonne's cavalry. The risk played both ways.

In the centre, where you can pick out Albemarle's Irishmen - so good to see troops painted some forty years ago back on the table - awful artillery casualties had not been repaid either with accurate return fire on the French artillery or even some hand-to-hand fighting with the entrenched infantry. Imperial infantry battalions were beginning to melt, casualties were rising...

...and the worst events of all were unfolding on the Imperial left, where despite the defeat of one French cavalry regiment, seen to the bottom right of the picture below, the Imperial forces had resolutely refused to desert their positions, and were now in a position to catch Visconti and Commercy in the midst of withering infantry fire as well as superior cavalry forces.

But far worse was to befall the Imperial army, on a day that Prince Eugene would undoubtedly have not commissioned a painting to celebrate. On his right flank, to my immense surprise, the three battered French cavalry regiments came through every time. The entire Imperial cavalry under Sereni and Vaubonne just melted away. Suddenly the ground was clear, and it left the Imperial infantry appallingly exposed.

Matters were no better handled on the Imperial left, where although a regiment of French dragoons had been left very exposed, retreating troops forced a general withdrawal. We presumed the Prince de Commercy lost in the fray, as he very well might have been, and was after all, historically. Visconti's remaining cavalry showed an understandable reluctance to engage as a result. The key had been the resolute morale of the Imperial infantry, who could so easily have chosen to withdraw, but instead pressed on, obtaining at least one clear fire at relatively close range against milling Imperial horse.

And in the centre, the end of Move 4 saw only further Imperial casualties, with nothing to show for it. In the historical battle, Imperial forces did manage to close, and gave a good account of themselves. However, there is no record of the disposition of the French artillery. In our case, everything was concentrated in one place, as you see below.

In a fashion most appropriate for a War of Spanish Succession battle, after all these losses, at this point Prince Eugene offered to parley, and it was agreed that he should concede the battle and withdraw. One might be tempted to criticise the rules, but I am more than willing to admit, the dice gods were in overdrive support of the French case on the day: roll after roll went my way, and I can claim credit only for relative boldness on the right flank, not my superlative luck in the centre and left. Nevertheless, as Marshal Vendôme I shall now complete the task of driving the Imperial army out of Italy altogether, and place the spoils of war at the feet of the Sun King himself. Vive Le Roi! 

Below, the historical report of the action by the London Gazette. It was 'a great victory', for which the Te Deum was sung in the Imperial camp. Imperial losses are described as only 795 killed, and 1,885 wounded, whilst French losses are estimated at a minimum 5,000. Whilst this may have been an exaggeration, in our refight, French casualties were extremely low - only 49 cavalry, which at the figure scale we had chosen, around 1:45, meant only around 2,200 casualties, with not a single infantry loss. Imperial losses, on the other hand, amounted to 122, of which half were infantry. That was approximately 5,490. A complete - more than complete - reversal of casualties compared to the historical action. 

I am slightly at a loss to imagine how it would have reported ours. 


MilitaryWiki (2020) Battle of Luzzara. Available at: Retrieved 21 July 2020.

Nafziger, G. Imperial Forces: Battle of Luzzara. Available at: Retrieved 21 July 2020.

Zimmermann, R. (1975)  The Wargamer's Handbook. 3rd edition. Sheyboygan, Z&M Publishing

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Whatever rows your boat - the Battle of Pylos (425BC) re-enacted

Sometimes mistakes can turn out for the best, in wargaming as in real life. I ordered triremes by mistake - mine, not theirs - from the excellent Outpost Wargaming, a deliciously inexpensive and suitable way to create as large an ancient fleet as one could possibly want. Could I find a way to utilise a hundred or so triremes as a way to try out David Manley's ancient fleet naval rules? It turned out that I could: the battle of Pylos was ideal in size, and an exciting scenario into the bargain. 

At this battle, a Spartan force sent to relieve their men ended up being trapped in the harbour - later to become even more famous for the Battle of Navarino - and was defeated by Demosthenes' Athenians, fleeing out to sea and leaving their men eventually to be ransomed, a key event in the history of the Peleponnesian War. Could I recreate something like his victory? 

The geography of the battle was tricky, according to a nineteenth century summary of the principal account:
Thucydides describes the harbour, of which the promontory Coryphasium formed the northern termination, as fronted and protected by the island Sphacteria, which stretched along the coast, leaving only two narrow entrances to the harbour, - the one at the northern end, opposite to Coryphasium, being only wide enough to admit two triremes abreast, and the other at the southern end wide enough for eight or nine triremes. The island was about 15 stadia in width, covered with wood, uninhabited and untrodden, (Thuc. iv. 8.) Pausanias also says that the island Sphacteria lies before the harbour of Pylus like Rheneia before the anchorage of Delos (v. 36. § 6)

(William Smith, 1854).

A map:

Here's what it looks like now, time having wrought some changes to the harbour, essentially increasing  it in size by creating a lagoon to the North.

I ended up rendering it like this - here, the Spartans are in the bay awaiting their fate:

A first for me: the ground scale for this battle (though not quite the vertical) was the same as the ship scale, i.e. 1/3600. That really is the approximate size of the harbour. 

And here, the Athenians approach:

They are 49 strong, in seven squadrons of seven ships, each, plus one Admiral, facing a Spartan force of 43 in six squadrons, but of more varied size, and their Admiral. Notice the narrow entrance to the harbour - and that's the wide one to the South, shown in the photo above. Although there is some debate about how wide the entrance actually was, there is general agreement that the Northern entrance to the harbour is extremely narrow, possibly only wide enough to allow a single ship through at a time. No place to be making an entrance, though, was my view as Demosthenes.

At this point, a brief digression on the rules. David Manley himself says this in the introduction to the rules, 'Greek Fire and Roman Fury'.

'One of the regular debates that my wargaming chums and I seem to have is the one about “whose role are we taking when we play a wargame?” Are we playing ship’s captains or fleet admirals? In general naval wargamers tend to assume the role of admirals whilst demanding a level of detail more appropriate to games set at the lower level. For most cases this is isn’t too much of a problem as the numbers of ships tends to be relatively small, and there are fleet level rules with appropriate levels of abstraction available for most periods. However, the ancient period seems to one where all available rules operate at the ship level. Obviously this makes battles such as Salamis, with hundreds of ships involved, difficult to handle. I wanted a set of rules that could be used to recreate these enormous battles whilst placing the players truly in the roles of admirals and squadron commanders. At this level the fate of individual ships is unimportant. Hence, “Greek Fire and Roman Fury” was born. 
The basis for these rules is a theory that the naval battles of antiquity were fought in a similar style to land actions. Therefore, in these rules, the respective fleets are represented by squadrons rather than individual ships, which are manoeuvred around the “battlefield” in a similar manner to armies. After a few false starts I decided to use “Fire and Fury” as the basis for the system, hence the name I finally selected..'.
On this basis, you can be sure of what you are getting, and GFARF do not disappoint. Squadrons are represented by a base with anywhere between two and eight ships, commanders have qualities that affect their performance, ship data are provided for a wide range of ancient types - we were both Aphract Triremes, so no shooting on this occasions, just melee. Squadrons have a limited range of formations - the Athenians were in the Diekplous - whilst morale and movement are combined in a single table, as in F&F. Simple, straightforward rules that will be well-suited to a major ancient fleet action once David has finished his final tweaks.

As my ships passed the headland to their North, with Pylos to their South on the other side of the entrance to the harbour, I felt quietly confident:

The Spartans did not lack courage: they came on immediately.. Out we went into single line to face theirs:

And some tough melees ensued. At first it did seem that the larger Athenian squadrons would have the advantage, despite the fact that a significant proportion of my force was still trapped in the entrance, undoubtedly the right thing for the Spartans to do:

But as the fight began to break up into squadron actions, the numerical advantage of the Athenians was not available to their best advantage. 

At the height of the battle, the forces were still struggling around the harbour entrance, a quite different state of affairs than in history, where by this time the Spartans had fled. 

The Athenian formation had not played to their advantage, and their losses became heavy - two squadrons in a single move, in fact, and even a couple of ships lost to collision. By the end of the battle, ten moves in total, all their remaining ships could do was to decide to turn tail and flee, leaving the harbour to the Spartans, no doubt a significant number of Athenian prisoners from those who had escaped sinking ships and swum to shore, and most importantly - no ransomed Spartan army. What misplaced confidence on my part!

This was a most enjoyable and rewarding test action, which gave us confidence that in due course we would not only be able to fight much larger ancient naval actions, such as those of the Punic Wars, but would be able to integrate naval actions and land actions into a campaign, should we choose. 


Kagan. D. (2003) The Peloponnesian War. London, Penguin

Outpost Wargaming 1/3600 galley range

Smith, W. (1854) Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London, Walton & Maberly. Available [extract] at at: Retrieved 1 June 2020. 

Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War. 4:11-14.