Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Alesia Part I - Construction of the siege lines...

'The circuit of that fortification, which was commenced by the Romans, comprised eleven miles.'
Caesar, The Gallic War, VII. 69

This Sunday at the Hall of Heroes, the usual suspects met up to refight the Siege of Alesia, 52 BC, using Hail Caesar rules. The game was the culmination of getting on for 2 years planning and preparation, for which, I hasten to add, I can take very little credit!

It was an awesome project - we recreated both the lines of circumvallation, enclosing the Gallic stronghold of Alesia...

and also the lines of contravallation, built to hold back the inevitable relief force...

The project was Philip's idea, so he was the natural choice to take on Vercingetorix's mantle, commanding the Gauls within Alesia.

Vercingetorix gazes at the Roman lines of circumvallation from his limestone fastness...surely a relief force will come?
Command of the relieving force, well, that wasn't so simple, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Today's tale is of the project preparations!

The usual suspects, L-R: Bryan, Gav (Romans)(Boo hiss!), Craig and Philip, (Gauls)(Hooray!), Vic (Roman), Jim (who brought his tribe all the way from Canberra to help raise the siege), and Terry, another Gaullist warrior hero!

Contravallation in the foreground, and the interior of the circumvallations in the background.
The game was set out on two tables. The smaller table, a mere 6 x 4, portrayed the interior of Alesia itself, hemmed in by Caesars circumvallation,

Looking out from the circumvallation wall to one of the camps on the Alesia plateau.
whilst the larger table, 12 x 4, held the contravallations erected by Caesar to defend against any Gaullic relieving force:

Contravallation exterior.
Contravallation interior - a satellite cavalry fort can be seen in the right background.
One of the numerous additional forts dotting the perimeter was also modelled, as a base for Caesar's allied German cavalry.

Just as it seems Roman Legionaries could turn their hands to anything, our mob's engineers produced all of these amazing models themselves.

Its hard to do justice to the care that was taken with the detail and finish of these pieces in my photos...

Even the doors in the gateways were magnetic and could be opened!

From the siege lines, our Roman Chief of Engineers, Primus Pilum Bryanus Squareonthehypotenuse Sallensius declaims about the work his team of roadmenders did for the siege:                                              Before taking up wargaming I would have said that logistics and engineering are possibly more important than morale and weapon types, so this battle got me more enthused than I had any right to be. In the lead up and over the weekend a lot of people asked about the wall so here are a few pics to show the process:
Some of the Vacuum Cast resin sections being undercoated

Early on it became apparent that a cheap solution would not suit. I decided that Vacuum Cast resin was probably the best material for the parapet and Gavin and I felt that expanded foam was the material for the rampart. Here you can see an original wicker section made from wood and, well, wicker, as well as the later original for the tower using resin wicker and wood.  

From these originals, moulds are made from which the sections are vacuum cast...

The expanded foam sections are done using a mould which has a lid with vent holes in it (not shown). When a small quantity of mixed foam resin is poured in, it expands to fill the mould. In the photo in the cut section you can see that the inside is aerated whereas the surface sets quite hard and takes on the detail from the mould.

This is the pile of moulds (not including Gavin's one) used on the project:

Thank you Primus Pilus, that will be all. Well as you might expect, Bryan's and Gav's attention to detail was second to none, even the towers were built to exactly fit the bases of our model scorpions!

Once the terrain was set out, easier said than done, the troops were stood to in their various locations and assembly areas...

The various Roman cohorts were unable to man the walls completely, more on this anon...

However, as more and more Roman units were unpacked the Gallic team became a little despondent!

But I daresay the view from the top of the wall wasn't too reassuring either! We had eleven 'divisions' of Gauls, each of 4 large warbands, 2 skirmish units....

and most divisions also had a specialist engineer unit to help breach the walls...

The ladders weren't simply for recognition, if 3 ladders were placed against a wall, it was determined that the engineers and warbands had filled or otherwise negated the effect of the ditch...

Well I think that's all your scribe has for you this evening, the next instalment will cover -

The Assault on Alesia!

Friday, 6 May 2016

Maurice - Zorndorf & Caesar's Court Martial

On Thursday night at the uni we had an epic double-player Maurice battle, played across the terrain of the Battle of Zorndorf 1758, between generic (non-historical) armies of Prussia and Austria (yes, no Russians this time - these are still on various painting tables scattered across the Illawarra!)

'Right - March in the guilty bas.. - I mean - March in the accused!
Its not often that multiplayer games lead to legal proceedings - but our usual post game deliberations, mostly conducted via our forum and by email, definitely had the air of an enquiry...hopefully my blog post will explain why, and you can pass your own verdict! The list of charge is growing longer, but includes:

Count 1: Unfairly and unpredictably throwing 6's (which in his defence is completely out of character).
Count 2: Conspiring with sundry merchants to distort the local economy by swamping the market with a glut of horseflesh, and, most gravely:
Count 3: Offending against good taste and Military etiquette by appearing on the Field of Honour sporting Crocs 'n Sox as foot apparel.

The field of Zorndorf, with the eponymous town at the bottom, and Zicher top mid-right
Our table, looking north east, with Zicher at the top centre of the photo - Prussians will deploy on the near edge.
Caesar organised the game as a multiplayer game, after giving everybody the option of playing several one on one games, or a massed game – the sentiment was for a big team game – I feel my work turning my mates into fellow megalomaniacs is bearing fruit!

Looking due east, with Zicher as the village with white buildings on the left. Table is 8 x 4.
The objective was the town of Zicher, which the Prussians (Caesar and Gary) had to wrest from us  Russians Austrians (Peter and I) .

My fellow Austrian Peter on the left, sitting opposite Caesar (the Accused). Caesar's Prussian mate Gary in the dark shirt.
I deployed first, with an Austrian infantry based army of 100 points, which was deployed across a wide front with irregular Grenze infantry anchoring the west flank, threatening to use their Skirmishers national advantage in the wooded terrain and rivers on that sector.

My centre consisted of Austrian line troops bolstered by 2 Regiments of Grenadiers in march colomn in local reserve, ready to cover any eventuality.

A large battery with the Artillery Academy national advantage, was deployed to the left of the infantry, directly to the front of the objective, Zicher, and a modest cavalry contingent in reserve, also remaining in march column for hasty deployment to cover any breakthroughs.

Gary then deployed a Prussian foot army, which deployed in columns opposite, and hoped to use its manoeuvrability in Cadence and Oblique Order national advantages to position for the kill with Lethal Volleys.

Peter commanded the Austrian cavalry army, investing Zicher in the far north with a battalion of his sparse infantry, while his plentiful cavalry anchored the Austrian east flank supported by a battery of artillery with the Artillery Academy national advantage. More on that later!

Caesar reviews the Prussian right wing cavalry - it all began so well!
Then finally Caesar deployed the Prussian cavalry army, very similar in composition to Peter’s force, opposite whom he deployed opposite on the east flank, with some troublesome river tributaries complicating decisive manoeuvre. (Guess who came in early to set up the terrain – tee hee hee!)

The battle commenced with a bombardment from Caesar’s “horse” artillery, hoping to use the Professional Train national advantage to allow it to close with the enemy after an initial devastating surgical strike. As it turned out, he inflicted a single disruption on one of Peter’s infantry battalions and little else after repeated long range efforts. My large artillery battery caused a few disruptions on the Prussian infantry, but nothing decisive.

Peter however put a crimp in Caesar's preparations to advance by playing the captured intelligence card as an Event, helping himself to one of Caesar's Coordinated Action cards.

Meanwhile, Gary had commenced the assault in earnest in the centre, astutely steering well clear of my lurking Pandour and Croat skirmishers.

It wasn’t long before the Prussian infantry had shaken out into lines and were pouring volleys into their Austrian counterparts.

The devastation continued as Gary ravaged my artillery park with a cavalry charge, a necessary action to prevent further damaging canister fire to his main attack. Luckily for me Peter’s well-sited battery caught the marauding cavalry in enfilade from across the river and chopped them up badly.

Gary looked across to his allied commander with raise eyebrows and Caesar was stung into doing something other than snipe at long range and drop annoying bits of terrain to secure his flank using the That’s Not On The Map! card, so he unleashed the heavy cavalry...

Riding roughshod across the river tributaries, laughing scornfully as he accrued disruptions for doing so, Caesar recklessly confidently ploughed four massed cavalry regiments into two of Peter’s infantry battalions in line in true cavalier fashion.

Peter coolly interrupted this madness with the Charge Falters card and backed it up with Hold The Line. Needless to say, the first charge was repulsed, so Caesar, channelling the ghost of that later Cavalry General, Douglas Haig, tried it again… and then again! In the ensuing court martial he claimed he was counting on an outnumbering advantage, two massed cavalry to one line infantry, but Peter had managed his cards perfectly to hit him with another Hold The Line and then another Charge Falters on the third attempt. By this stage he’d learned that musket volleys at close range into massed cavalry is probably a good idea, so although my line was being rearranged by Gary’s Lethal Volleys,

My line infantry disappear in a pink mist...
we Austrians took every opportunity to call a volley phase and inflict irreparable damage on vulnerable Prussian cavalry regiments, trading off the hurt to our infantry.

Like an enormous sausage machine, the cavalry kept feeding in until Prussian army morale was dangerously low. Finally Caesar diverted the survivors across another river to try and assist Gary’s equally foolhardy cavalry assault in the centre.

Ragged volleys continued to plague the Prussian cavalry as they shifted their effort westward, lowering Prussian army morale still further.

Morale was critically low on both sides, down to three a piece, the loss of a single unit potentially breaking the combined armies of either side.

David had kindly assumed command of the remnants of my army towards the end of the evening, as I was forced to retire, prostrate with nervous exhaustion, and he clung on doggedly, holding the entire western flank with two grenadier battalions as he attempted to bring his cavalry reserve to bear. Gary’s onslaught had been checked briefly by poor surveying when another That’s Not On The Map marsh materialised,

a parting gift from me as I was stretchered away from the field of honour, feebly waving my tear stained lace handkerchief at my brave boys to encourage them on – although I must say they didn’t seem impressed…Well, it was Italian lace d’ye know!

David takes over the remnants of the Prussian infantry...note the Accused's footwear...
Recall Peter’s well-sited battery? Well, although Gary had cunningly split Peter’s Austrian cuirassier reserve by cantering one of Peter’s regiments into the river in confusion, thereby screening the guns, Peter was able to pick another target in the form of Caesar’s cuirassiers that conveniently rode into view, and broke them with a well-aimed bombardment.

Now it was time for Caesars’ famed unlucky dice rolling to come into play and save the Prussian effort! Loss of the regiment meant 1-3 morale point depending on how high he rolled; the Prussians were in safe unlucky hands surely?

He rolled a six! That was enough to send the Prussians over the edge. The battle ended in the dark with both armies exhausted.  It was a pyrrhic victory for the Austrians who had suffered heavy losses but the Austrians held the field.

At Caesar’s court martial, Peter gave the following evidence:

The Austrians relocated its Artillery to fire into the Prussian Centre. The Artillery firing into the flanks of the Prussian Cavalry started wiping out a few units.  This annoyed the Prussian Cavalry commander enough to charge massed cavalry into the Austrian Infantry in what would prove to be a vain attempt to wipe out the Austrian Guns.  For several turns the Prussian Cav smashed into the Austrian Infantry who fought with extra vigour (i.e. some good cards) to drive off and kill several cavalry units.

The Prussian cav then redeployed to support the main Prussian centre attack.  The Austrian infantry kept shooting the Prussian Cav grinding them down.
Next the Austrians decide the commit their Elite Cuirassiers they were commanded to charge across the river and attack the damaged Prussian Cavalry.  One unit did as ordered but another Cuirassier got confused and lost in the river. This attack faltered and the Cuirassiers were eventually lost pushing the Austrians close to breaking.

Then the Austrian Infantry Volley fire killed another 2 Prussian units pushing the Prussians close to breaking.

The final blow came from the Austrian artillery battery who blasted away killing another Prussian Cav unit this broke the Prussian Army. 

The Accused's Friend, David, had this to say on his behalf:
This is a game that looks like it could be played at a really advanced level of skill by experienced players where you juggle hand management and 'big-picture' goals - which as we discussed, probably means knowing when to let units get clobbered for a higher goal.