Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wargamer's Wandering Minds (to the dark ages)

Kinda like Wandering Eyes, but for Miniature Games...

Let's wander off to the dark ages.  I have a decent collection of Vikings, Saxons, and Normans that have sat around dormant for awhile.  I've been very faithful to the ACW and AoS for the last year but lately I've been tempted to dabble back into the dark ages, kinda like when you run into  an ex-girl friend that's been to the gym a lot. 

Because of this sexiness from Warlord Games

Hail Caesar she says?  I like Hail Caesar rules
Dark Age Sagas she says?  I like the games set in the dark ages...
Volume 1?  So more in the future...
Updated rules for the Dark ages, including a new rule for being in a shield wall she says?  HELLO baby!  I've missed you so much...

but then again...

Dark Age rule Sets Quibbling 

While I love dark age skirmish games and dark age battles;  I couldn't really find a ruleset that I really liked for mass battles.  I tried a couple of different rule sets (War and Conquest, Age of Empires, Sword and Spear, and Hail Caesar), and all were decent games* but none of them really rang my bell completely as in 'now this is what I want.'  But let's talk for about Hail Caesar for the moment.

Hail Caesar came the closest to what I wanted; but I don't love the command roll and I really didn't think it did a good job of modeling units in a formal shield wall.  The command roll in HC (and for that matter Black Powder) can be lame because if you are controlling 1 division and fail your first roll, (basically need to roll 8 or less on 2d6, and there's no way to modify that roll), then you don't do anything for most of the turn which is BORING.  The obvious fix is to have each player control at least 2 divisions, so that the odds of failing both command rolls on the first attempt are very low; ensuring that a player will most likely be able to move something.  Sometimes I'm surprised that 'roll to activate' mechanics are still around, as nobody likes them.  No one wants to roll dice and then do nothing.  A better game mechanic I've seen is a 'roll for type of activation;'  the better the roll the more options, the worse the less options or even moving in retreat, but at least retreating is doing something.  Even if you have to move your units backwards it's better than rolling dice, cursing, then stating "well, my movement is over.  you guys go ahead and do your moves while I wander away and get something to eat and maybe I'll be back in time for shooting."

The shield wall problem was more complex: there really wasn't a good mechanism to illustrate a bunch of men forming a compact shield wall to make them harder to kill.  yeah you could use the  'close ranks'  ability (-1 to hit, +1 to save) but after a few games of this I realized that ability actually SUCKED and you should never do it.  EVER.  It actually makes it more likely you will lose the combat, which in HC means you take the Break test, which means there's a chance to lose the unit.  AND the way to win at HC is make the other guy take more break tests. 

What HC is good at is putting on a good looking game with long battle lines smashing together and grinding it out with some excitement.  It's also easy to pick up, doesn't take too long, and is easy to construct scenarios with.  Overall I think it's a pretty decent generic rule set though.

The new book has a new shield wall rule, which sounds better than anything I could come up with. Which is the main point about buying expansions: I'm paying for someone to think for me.

*OK, fine, let's talk about the other rule sets:
War and Conquest was just a little too complicated and the I found the shooting to be WAY overpowered.  In all the games I played my formed units in Shield wall formation would get shot to pieces by large groups of skirmishers, which in my mind should NOT happen; formed infantry should not be done in by skirmishers.   Also I discovered that I didn't like building units from individual models and individual casualty removal.  just too picky.

Sword and Spear has a lot of stuff I like except one big thing that bugs me: while you can move units as a group together, when it comes to charging into contact units have to move one at time, alternating with the other player.  So instead of smashing your battle-line against his battle line, you dribble units in piecemeal which doesn't match my perception of dark age battles.

So Like an Itch

It is funny to me how the dark ages genre kinda resurfaced in my brain, completely unbidden.  I'm still focused on ACW (and have some serious hobby plans for the troops) but now all of a sudden I am seduced into thinking about dark age games and scenarios.  The obvious way to scratch this itch is to play a game with my dark age miniatures.  After all, I have all these painted miniatures and terrain for a reason.  Of course my life is not cooperating and recent events are having me with little time to escape to play games.  For the time being I'm one of those guys who builds and paints but won't get a game in anytime soon.  I wonder how that will effect the blog; what do you do with a wargaming blog when you're not wargaming?

The next best thing is of course to buy something and/or build something.  I shouldn't buy any miniatures because I have PLENTY lying around.  So I'll likely buy the book (especially bc Warlord has free shipping right now due to the royal wedding).  And for a small project I found 18 Norman Crossbow men that I had purchased from someone else oh-so-long-ago that needed rebasing.  So that was that.

These guys basically came on a 4 x 4 base that I destroyed awhile ago
.  It was a simple matter of just preparing and gluing them to the new 25mm rounds and then doing the ground textures

Like so.. tadaa!  

And while putting the guys away I took a moment to organize and inventory the collection of Normans so far.  I grouped them by type and counted and got:

59 Infantry
24 Archers
31 Crossbows
16 Unarmored Knights
35 Armored Knights
2 leaders.   

or roughly 60 infantry, 60 missile, and 60 cavalry.  Just like I planned it. 
Also my smallest Dark Age army. 

I give you The Norman Army:

Ariel shot of all the groups

Norman Infantry

Armored Knights

Unarmored Knights



Fun fact about these Normans: I only painted maybe 4-8 of them.  All others are bought from other gamers or paint service.  That's right, this force is completely mercenary; just like the real Normans.

Successful Wargamer?

So what happened:
I fell victim to marketing strategy that sometimes gets to me: Making a generic rule set and an endless amount of supplements for that rule set; also succumbed to "new shiny syndrome"  albeit in book form, of a genre I'm not doing anytime soon.  But at least it's a continuation of a current wargaming period and not something just totally random.  Therefore:  partial success!

I did something different to break up the constant ACW and AoS, and increased my collection of completed figures; Therefore success!

Found something to blog about, maybe worth reading?
Partial success!


  1. Interesting post. I am unfamiliar with Dark Age rulesets except having a glance at Saga. Have you thought of using the GW War of the Rings rules?

    1. SAGA is how this whole dark ages thing started for me. I don’t have those GW rules but when they came out some friends played it and they were very unimpressed. But I haven’t read them. 😀

  2. Dark Ages is a fun era. I still have a tonne of Saxons and Jomsvikings to paint of my own. :/

    You never mentioned what the actual mechanic for Shieldwalling in the new book was?

    1. Well, I don’t know for sure all the details since I don’t have the book (yet). But from what I gathered from the Internet:
      Unit must hold still for a turn to form shield wall and then it gets a half movement, +1 to morale and break tests (the +1 to break test is really smart) but the combat stats are reduced by one.

  3. That’s a fine collection of figures Stew. I am up at Hadrian’s Wall at the moment on a two day break. For my treat book, bought locally, I just picked up Northumbria at War by Derek Dodds. Chapter 1 is Kingdom in Conflict 43 - 1066 and I am enjoying the read so far.

    Have you considered the Dux Bellorum rules by Dan Mersey (Osprey) for ideas? I have them on the Kindle, but have not done anything with them yet, but they may be a half way house between the rules tha you mention. They are listed as being Arthurian 367 - 793 AD, good for Romano-British, but I have seen blog posts of the rules being ‘stretched’ to running a little later.

    One of the problems that I see with many rules of the period is that insist of having Housecarls as separate units, perhaps giving the Anglo-Saxon army 2 such units at best, yet at hastings, it would appear that the Housecarls were spread along the front face of the army, as a sort of hard edge to the Thegns, who had taken up position in front of the General Fyrd.

    It is a pity that the Warlord booklet only covers up to 1000 AD, I would have loved the 2nd volume (1000 - 1066) to have been released at the same time.

    1. I know what you mean about the second volume. Seems a little artificial to split them. Also get what your saying about the huscrals: in HC there is a mixed unit rule that allows for what you mean where Two troop types mix in one unit. Though I love the LoTR skirmish rules because it greatly allows for elit troops to be supported by line troops.

      RE: dux bellorum; I actually played it a few times when it came out and decided it was not for me. Mainly we found that the benefit of using leadership points to cancel hits so out weighed any other use that it really wasn’t a decision of where to put them. I also did not enjoy the forced / uncontrolled charge mechanic.

  4. Great collection of Dark Age figures, Stew!
    If you are in search of rulesets, don't rule out Basic Impetvs or Impetvs. Both games are great fun.

    1. I don’t have those rules yet but might look into them. I see that basic impetus 2 is only $5 on wargamevault. 😀

  5. Wonderful looking collection of figures Stew. This is an interesting conundrum that you have which is not so dissimilar to what myself and my fellow wargaming companions found ourselves in for several years after the demise of Warhammer Ancient Battles. For quite some time our collections at still, gathering dust until...we discovered "To The Strongest". This is a GREAT set of rules which allow scope or mini-dioramas on bases, proper modelling of formations such as shield walls, deep hoplite formations etc., with no tape measures and no dice. Looks fantastic and plays even better!
    Take a look on Google or visit Big Red Bat Blog and see for yourself.

    1. Thanks Carlo. I do have those rules and they look pretty good. I haven’t had a chance to play them yet. I should prioritize that. I don’t mind the grid or the cards. 😀

  6. Nice looking Norman force, I've got a dark age project bubbling away in the background, not current but figures bought and rules for them to build around,Im using Dux Bellorum, Romano British and pagan Saxon, the rules definitely cover later Saxon and scandihooligan , as Norm said could be stretched to Norman too,it was the first osprey game so reasonable price, I've just got to the strongest for ECW (can't remember what it's called!) But I'm actually going to get to the strongest for the Italian wars and maybe wotr, not that I've got anything against hail Caesar,too much choice!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain. See some of comments above about dux and TtS.
      You are correct: we likely have several good choices for rules. In some way this is a PIA, as one can’t keep buying rule sets forever!

  7. Successful wargamer? I think so, based on your assessment scheme. Successful blogger? Definitely so: very interesting post. I personally dislike the now universal (and unchallenged) mechanic of the activation roll. Perhaps I'll elaborate more on that in my blog at some time rather than here in the comments box :) Maybe you might cast your net backwards to older rules sets from the pre-activation era to see if there is something that might take your fancy, either 'out of the box" or with some modification? I like your dark age figures alot, by the way. One reason I based my Thirty Years War figures singly, like your dark ages figs, was to give me the flexibility to use them in skirmish and larger scale systems.

    1. Thanks Ed. It’d be an interesting post about game mechanics.
      The dark age collections all started out at small skirmish level war bands and then got out of hand. 😀

  8. Very good looking force even if they are mercenaries. Strangely after my fixation with ACW I am also starting to wander towards dark ages and expanding my current skirmish forces into something a little grander. At the last show I visited there were some great Crusader games and I am wondering about expanding my Norman’s and Arabs forces. Would be nice to battle in southern Spain.🤔

    1. That’s because we’re both super geniuses! 😀
      The Normans are one of my favorite

  9. Thanks Anthony!
    I do like the Normans, such a bad ass bunch of jerks! 😀