Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Wargaming the Barbarian Kingdom Period (6th century AD) - Part 1, Ostrogoths

The story of the Ostrogoths is a very interesting one, including their origin, and how they became to be considered a single people, but from a military/wargaming perspective, their war against the Romans (especially the Eastern Romans, or the Byzantines, as their identity was coalescing following the fall of Western Rome) in and around Italy is the most interesting, and where we find some potential scenarios and campaigns for good games.

The eastern Goths had come into Italy in the previous century, and held (as the result of a number of successful sieges and sacks) many of the key cities of the peninsula.  In a period of almost 20 years, under Justinian, the Byzantines waged the "Gothic War" in order to restore these areas back to Roman (Byzantine) rule.  This lasted from 535 to 554 AD.  Some Gothic strongholds in Northern Italy would hold out for another 8 years, not falling until 562.

The earlier period is the successful sweep of the Byzantines up the peninsula, crossing from Africa, and securing a number of strong strategic points up the Italian peninsula.

Early Phase of the Gothic War

Battles of this period feature an early Ostrogothic army, against a Justinian Byzantine army.  The fighting is suitable for somewhat larger battles, and also (due to the rough country and terrain of Italy) for smaller raids and skirmishes, that no doubt took place between Byzantine forces, and smaller Gothic strongholds and military units.  Eventually the Gothic stronghold at Ravenna would be conquered by the Byzantines in 539/540.

This leads to the second phase of the Gothic War (540-554 or event 562) where a revived Gothic push back against the Byzantines takes place under the Gothic leader of Totila.
Totila, painted by Salviati in 1549
During the push back phase of the Ostrogoths reclaiming the initiative from the Byzantines, the great Byzantine general Narses would suffer because he also was dealing with encroachments from the Franks and the Alamanni.  In 554 AD, Narses was succesful against the Goths, at the battle of Vesuvius (also known as the Battle of Mons Lactarius), by defeating the army of Totila, and also killing the king.  The Goths, after this, retreated north into Austria.

In the end, however, Byzantines were successful against the Goths in Italy, but it was a fleeting victory.  First, it kept the strength of the Byzantines from dealing with problems in the north and the east.  Second, once the Goths were subjugated, the area was swept over again, by another German group, the Lombards, who would prove to be a lot harder to dislodge (that task being left to the Carolingians).

Battle of Mons Lactarius in 554AD, painted by Adolf Zick (~1900AD)

The representation of the Ostrogoths in miniature wargaming is pretty interesting, even if the army only has a few distinctive troop types.  The DBA rules give a pretty good indication of what we can surmise from history (and how rules writers interpret that history into wargaming terms).  DBA (original) has Army number 86 (Italian Ostrogothic 493-554AD) with 6x elements of Knights, 4x elements of Psiloi, or skirmish infantry, and finally 2x elements which could be either formed as 2x more Psiloi elements, or 2x spear elements.  

Before looking at how they are represented in other rules, it is worth considering the basics presented by the DBA list.  First, is the cavalry. In a gothic army, that is the Ostrogoths that settled in Italy, or the Visigoths that settled in Spain, and the various places these two broad groups came from (stretching all the way back to Northern Eurooe, in what is modern day Sweden), the army was mainly focused on the Warriors being mounted, and fighting in a close order, for shock value.  The other members of the population, as well as absorbed and allied peoples, would generally fight on foot.  Mainly these were loose order skirmishes, designated to a role supporting the mounted warriors. But in the case of some absorbed peoples (like the remnants of local Romanized infantry, which would fight in a dense shielded formation, with sword and spear) the foot troops might actually fight in a formed up formation, not entirely unsuited for a place in the battle line.  Still, however, the main branch is the mounted warriors.

 This is very much the same as what we find in the original 1982 WRG Army List Book Two entry.  There, the army gets a mandatory 44-72 Gothic Cavalry (start at Heavy Cavalry, but some portion can be upgraded to Extra Heavy Cavalry, all with javelin/light spear and shield).  Add to those figures, up to 90 additional Gothic Cavalry (which start at Medium Cavalry, but can up upgraded to Heavy Cavalry, and can be upgraded to match the morale grade of the earlier lot, Irregular B).  This makes for a very strong cavalry section (as you would expect, given the history of the army at battles like Taginae and Mons Lactarius, where the Ostrogoths fought against Byzantines and Germans that countered them with a reinforced infantry center), but without infantry it will have problems against a mixed foe who can reinforce a central battleline of heavy infantry.  The only real infantry presence the Goths have is that of the Gothic Archery (presented in the WRG list as up to 100 Light Infantry, which can remain as Irregular D or be upgraded to Irregular C).

This is a very interesting army, for a wargamer, because of it's strange mix of troop types.  The heavy cavalry is very good, and may be a precursor for later armies in the post-dark ages period.  But, as it is only supported by light infantry archers, it might be tough against some armies.  Where this will do well (a-historically) is in games the give too much credence to archery, and games that do not provide structural problems to cavalry fighting deep formation infantry without support.  I own (and fight with) an Ostrogoth DBA army, but I have not yet tried it with Might of Arms, or Terry Gore's rules.  It should be (at least) an educational matchup against a sixth century Byzantine army.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A move, a return, a restart, and a resumption

Recently, the staff and adjutants at Gaming with Chuck HQ have undergone a move.  This is a return, in a way, back home.

Five years ago, upon completing my PhD, I went off into the world as a new professor, and after teaching for a few years, and serving as a research professor for a few years, Providence has brought us full circle, and we are now returning back to Newport News.

I will be teaching at a local university, and my daughter will be attending my alma mater, Christopher Newport University.  And, I have fallen back into step with my old wargaming club.  There is also talk of regular game days at GwC HQ, and also (gasp) rumors of regular roleplaying.  Where will all the time come from?  Still it is good to be coming home.

Soldier from the wars returning,
Spoiler of the taken town,
Here is ease that asks not earning;
Turn you in and sit you down.

Peace is come and wars are over,
Welcome you and welcome all,
While the charger crops the clover
And his bridle hangs in stall.

Now no more of winters biting,
Filth in trench from tall to spring,
Summers full of sweat and fighting
For the Kesar or the King.

Rest you, charger, rust you, bridle;
Kings and kesars, keep your pay;
Soldier, sit you down and idle
At the inn of night for aye.
      - A.E. Housman, 1922

I mentioned that I have fallen in with the old wargaming club, Old Dominion Military Society, which is now actively gaming again on a weekly basis.  Our summer convention (Guns of August) is being hosted at the Virginia War Museum.  We have plans underway for the new winter convention (Williamsburg Muster), returning to its regular February timeslot.  The local club is also talking about monthly game days (game nights?) where we rent out or acquire access to a large venue, for some big, serious, miniatures gaming.  Maybe at the Museum?  Maybe at a local community hall?  Still working the details.

Miniature gaming, so far, has been of the Thursday night variety.  Which means, typically, smallish games.  Some ODMS members have hosted great things - (The Rules with No Name, FrostGrave, Wings of Glory, DBA, etc etc), and this week we have some Ancients happening, and next week we have some Napoleonics happening.  All very good.

Boardgaming has been quite fun, and with our new game room (the den, or family room, in our new house is dedicated as a game room, with storage for all our board games, and a nice game table, some chairs, a couch, and a computer desk), we have been playing on a regular basis, as a family, and with some guests.   During the move, the inventory and packing/unpacking experience showed us that we have a lot of games that we really like, but haven't played in a while.  And some that we have never played.  To address those issues, we made a list of "games we have not played lately, but want to" and will be using that to schedule Wednesday night family game night. Several recent games of Fantastiqa have been quite fun, and looking forward to some Terra Mystica and maybe some Archon and/or Tempus.

Roleplaying has been discussed, especially with our return to the old stomping grounds, and so many of the players we love playing with from years ago.  There is talk of "getting the band back together" with some of the our old regulars, in an old fashioned roleplaying game (either fantasy, or maybe sci-fi).  Nothing yet, but details will appear in this fine publication.

Planned upcoming game activities -

Guns of August is going to be in a public place - so it will be a little bit different.  I am treating this as a recruiting and/or community outreach opportunity for both wargaming in general, and for the game club (ODMS).  I will be hosting four (introductory level) wargames, and am in the process of preparing handouts for each, to introduce some history, wargaming, and the rules being used.

1. Introduction to Medieval Wargames - very similar to the games I hosted at Guns of August 2016, with two games going on at once (maybe, Vikings/Saxons, and Crusaders/Saracens).  I'll be using the Neil Thomas introductory rules, and am working on a handout for this game.

2. Wargaming the Revolutionary War - I will probably use a smaller version of the scenario I ran at Thanksgiving 2015, which was a fictional Southern Campaign battle, set in South Carolina 1780.  I won't be using Black Powder for this, because I want it completely friendly to newcomers and kids.  Either some homebrew rules (Patriot's Blood) or Neil Thomas Napoleonic rules adapted for the purpose.

3. Introduction to Renaissance Wargaming - This one will be a lot like the first one, with two battles (four armies), and using the Neil Thomas rules.  One of the battles will most likely be French/Imperialist vs. Italians.  The other might be English Civil War.  Again, similar to the solo Renaissance game I did back in 2016.  The main feather here is the history of the period, and trying to get people interested, so I am working on a nice handout.

4. Introduction to Medieval Wargaming - This one is a conundrum for me.  I have a couple of ideas.  The first is to do the same thing I plan for number 1 above, but maybe with different armies.  The second is to do a 28mm scale game using Lion Rampant, to show what medieval games are like, at that weird mix between skirmish and full army battles (such as LR, but also Saga and some others).  The third idea is to use the Chainmail rules such as my recent games supporting the Lord of the Manor project, and use the handout session to show the connection between miniatures games and the later roleplaying game revolution.  Still deciding this one.

Lots more coming up, including finishing some of the projects here (dark ages wargaming, retro reviews, etc).  Watch this space.