Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Glasgow 29th-30th November

Glasgow Armati - the Phil Rodgers Trophy
... and the Armati League's annual 'end of season' get together in Glasgow.

For those unaware, the Armati League formula is of several rounds which are 'open' (limited by period, but the player chooses and takes his/her own army, including bought and obligatory terrain features .. and the game is played per the set up rules etc. in the book), and several (popularly styled) 'scenario' rounds (where the table and/or army may be fixed and allocated by lot). Traditionally, the last event of the year is in downtown Glasgow a few weeks before Christmas.

At Glasgow, all the tables have terrain preset, and a matched pair of armies are given. In some cases these mirror historical battles, in others, they are appropriate antagonists (say Egyptians and Hittites) but not meant to reflect any particular battle. In some cases the scenario designer will have taken the opportunity to correct little glitches in the army lists, and any such changes will be noted down on the printed sheets which come with the forces. Terrain also might be tweaked (so, the large Sphinx in the armies photo proudly sat as an impassable area in the middle of the Egyptian table - and had a challenging effect on the game, too) ...

The reasoning is many fold. A lot of players do have to travel some distance to Glasgow, including by plane. The system allows the home players to provide all the kit - so visitors just need to get to the hotel with their overnight bags. Nice and simple. The preset terrain, of course, allows for quick start ups (so you ought to be able to get lots of games in), and it is easier to doff a cap to history (and put a cap on gamesmanship?) by providing both sides in the game (and allegedly playtesting it so the encounter is known to be evenly balanced). I use the words 'ought' and 'allegedly' etc. because it is by now a time-honoured Glasgow tradition to question the balance of any and all of the games ...

Personally, I do prefer preset terrain for all tournament circumstances as it precludes players turning up with 'cheesy' terrain pieces, it gets games going quickly, and - in my opinion - it sets a more authentic challenge (take the battlefield as it is and the army that you've got ...) ... That said, the terrain on the tables has got to be reasonable, given the armies. And on that point opinions will always differ.

(Just some of the beautifully presented armies supplied for the Glasgow Armati games)

Games are allocated by drawing a coin marked with the table number out of a bag, then flipping it to see who gets which side (and a few sub rules to minimise players getting the same game/army a second time round) ... In the past there has been a joker system where players could 'avoid' certain draws by playing their joker and going to the bag again. Great idea. Didn't get used in 2009. The advantage of the joker system is that it enables a player to avoid games that are felt to be unbalanced or which (e.g. me, previously, with Samurai 'civil wars') they don't feel offer a satisfactory game under the rules. Overall, a great effort was put on by Glasgow Phoenix, and most of the games were pretty good matches. The armies were generally well thought out, and (see the accompanying photos) the presentation standards were great.

As recorded in Carl Luxford's Newsletter, the tables were as folows: 1 Siatic Egyptian versus Early Achamenid Persian; 2 New Kingdom Egyptian versus Hebrew; 3 Nubian versus New Kingdom Egyptian; 4 Gauls versus Samnites; 5 Seleucids versus Ptolemaic; 6 Fatamid versus Abbasid; 7 Imperial Roman (?) versus Picts; 8 Later Macedonian versus Later Carthaginian; 9 First Crusader versus Nikephoran Byzantines; 10 Ottoman Turk versus Timurid; 11 Catalan Grand Company versus Romanian Frank; 12 German Imperialist versus Milan City State.

(Craig Tannock presents Steve Metheringham with the Phil Rogers trophy)

For the weekend tournament - Steve Metheringham won, Bill Wilson came second, and Vicent Auger came third. The scores meant Bill Wilson retained his crown as Armati League champion for 2009.

Prominent traditional 'end of season' features of the Glasgow event are the additional awards made by the hosts to their various visitors - once an attempt to share out the prizes this has become something of a ritual mocking of regular players and their likes and dislikes ... much to the entertainment of all.

(The assembled Armati players mock their fellow enthusiasts)

There usually then follows a 'parlement' of the 'League' players to fix the general pattern and provisions for the following year (a clearing house and planning session). Sadly, one supposes due to the waning status of the game, the parlement was called off. Ah well, I suspect this will have been my last Glasgow Armati weekend anyway. The idea, the club and the personalities are great, but the rules are overdue for reform and the game has drifted from what it was in the early days of the league.

Nevertheless, thanks for a great weekend and an ideal build up to Christmas ... Best of luck to everyone. I hope the Society of Ancients continues to support the Armati League.

Reading - Rivermead 22nd-23rd November

Warfare 2008The Society of Ancients pitch at Warfare followed a pattern now familiar for shows in the south of England - A Sabin/Cruttenden 28mm historical battle fought as a participation game on the Saturday, changing over to a different game offered on the Sunday. This year was exceptional in that both games were published 'alternative' games, both being run for the Society by their authors (SoA members, of course, as you'd expect ... but seldom are we fortunate enough to get both helping the show team over the course of the same weekend).

On Saturday, Philip Sabin ran a Lost Battles Issus game. This looked superb and attracted many a compliment. It is also an excellent battle to put on using Lost Battles - huge, and difficult to balance using 'old fashioned' table top systems, it can easily be fought to a conclusion with beginners at the helm, twice in a normal show day. The handicap scoring system enables a fair game to follow the historical script but with plenty of chances to win and change history on both sides. Lost Battles has an interesting way of factoring in the effects of linear features which seems uniquely effective at capturing the essence of these typically Persian battles across the banks of a river. Whilst making the defensive position work challenges the Persian player, Alexander has an absolutely crucial role to play in making the Macedonian army tick ...As well as chatting to a good number of interested spectators and visitors, I was fortunate enough to take a limited part in the second of the day's encounters, and the battle rattled through with its usual smoothness. I really do recommend this system for refighting historical battles of the Classical and Hellenistic period. I believe the paperback is now available.
(Alexander has an absolutely crucial role to play in making the Macedonian army tick ...)

On the Sunday, Neil Thomas helped us run a participation game of his Ancient and Medieval WarfareNeil's 8 unit battle system and elegant combat mechanism is an increasingly popular option for fast playing and relatively simple ancient battles. These rules have been quite well covered in Slingshot, and have been the basis for the beautifully presented participation games recently from the Graham D Evans stable (Derby, Milton Keynes etc.) ...However, this year's Warfare was the first time I have been able to watch the system played through by the author, rather than as interpreted and put on by my local Northamptonshire club mates. There is quite a fascinating difference (particularly issues such as wheeling, lining up, flank attacks and such like) ... The good news is that both versions of the game work because both are attempting to get to the same overall effect (and this certainly demonstrates the strength of the underlying mechanisms ...).Looking around the show, as well as the massed of tournament categories, there was an above average selection of display and participation games. The Lance and Longbow Society were offering a Wars of the Roses game based upon RFCM's Bloody Barons from Peter Pig ...Meanwhile, just along from from the Society's pitch, a Roman invasion scenario was nicely depicted with 28mm figures (and prominently dressed with the reconstructed Legionary gear) ...
The 'hugely impressive terrain' prize must have gone to the vast 28mm Soviets in Mongolia game (1938, I guess) featuring that currently popular fluffy way of doing long grass - 'fake fur' I think it is made from - which done as well as this, does indeed look very good (and quite Mongolian, I think - I recall there wasn't much to hide behind except dried up river banks and tall grass!) ... Good figures and vehicles too (and - authentically - bi-plane fighters with rocket armament ...)...And another worthy mention goes to the (sadly static) 54mm plastics display .. very inspiring and good to see so many big but inexpensive figures in a simple but effective presentation.

(54mm plastic Napoleonics - click on the picture for a larger version)

I was able to do some good shopping at this show, too.

See you next year? Thanks to everyone for giving us so much to do.

Pevensey Bay 8th-9th November

Anderida 2008 - 15mm Doubles for the Society of Ancients Trophy
(thanks to Chris for this fantastic shot - honest, this is from the Aqua Club window on the Sunday morning where we were playing the games ...)

Yes, that's a pretty fantastic shot of the sportier types in the surf outside the Pevensey Bay Aqua Club - and well past the best weather on England's channel beaches. That said, it is England, and we'll go down to the beach in any weather. The late night skinny dippers on Eastbourne Promenade could testify to that. But that, as they say, is another story ...

It's a long time since Michael Grant came up with the idea of a friendly late year tournament down on the coast - and the idea that the main prize, the Society's Anderida Trophy, should go to the player that best summed up the event's spirit rather than to the team that amassed the most points. An old-fashioned idea, but one which over the years seems to have kept Anderida an enthusiasts tournament rather than attracted the usual pot-hunters.
(one of the best collections of trophies you will find)

The welcome and the organisation is old fashioned too - and much the better for it. Perhaps I shouldn't have put in the picture of the trophies, though (maybe they are better a 'best kept secret' amongst the Anderida regulars). From the beginning, Anderida has been a restricted lists event, with a new idea each year. The Best Army and Best Baggage awards are well respected, and many of the teams work for much of the preceding year on the new army for the new theme. It is a pleasure often to be asked as a representative of the Society of Ancients, to scout around and see who's come up with contenders. The final decisions are often very difficult.

(Anderida - my collage with some of the armies in use this year)
As for the games, for many of us, they are as much a chance to catch up with old friends as to play toy soldiers
(and Pevensey Bay's traditionally English breakfasts generally mean a fairly leisurely approach to the day's work is embraced by all ...).
This was very much a DBM swansong for me and my SoA Doubles partner, former Treasurer Chris Ager: we have long since both switched and now play Field of Glory for tournaments.

We kind of got dumped on our derrieres in the opening game (against eventual winners Pearce and Morgan) mostly as a result of me deploying as defender in a position where I would be overexposed if the command opposite got a 5 or a 6 on the opening turn. Bit rusty, then ... Fool's Mate for one of our commands - though Darrell and Jeremy administered the blows with their usual offbeat charm. The results, of course, brightened up ... though we could hardly do much to winkle the Romans out of their fortifications in the final game ...

(Phil and Mike's crowded side of the table)

We had chosen Early Armenians for this last DBM tournament - partly because it didn't require too much changing in our busy army boxes (and brains!) from the recent Field of Glory Palmyrans, partly because cavalry armies seem to give a more satisfying game than the dour footsloggers that became such a constant feature after the 3.1 version was adopted ... but mostly because I wanted to curry favour with the gods by circling an eagle over our camp. And I like cataphracts (and I don't like Romans ...)...

(An Armenian Snake Eagle soars auspiciously over the camp)

Clever little camp vignette - clearly stolen in some time travelling raid on Byzantium, if the flag is anything to go by ... Not the best, though - that went to Barry Harman's assemblage of Hunnic wagons (in contention also must have been the Davies/Parker Roman Marching Camp ... the army itself got the main painting prize ... check out their pictures on the Anderida link ...)..

More important, what a good time we had. Great games all. In the end, Chris and I managed to break into the top ten .. level with organiser/hosts Eric and Alan (who seem to spend half their time these days doing Lost Battles displays for the Society at shows as part of Phil Sabin's team ...).. The Society was able to fly the flag (and productively reminded quite a few people to update the subscriptions). And we all did our bit to keep Michael's cherished values going for another year. And yes, we enjoyed playing DBM over the weekend. It made a change.

You can look up the full results on the Anderida website (here ...), but for the tournament positions, Jeremy Morgan and Darrell Pearce came first with their Sassanids, followed by Colin Sharpe and Mike Bennett (second), and Graham Willmot and Paul Stovell (third). Paul Fencott won the Society of Ancients Shield to universal acclaim for his spirited disregard for personal safety (losing six generals over the course of the weekend, including one in every game ...)

I understand next year will see a choice of either FoG or DBM. Never been before? maybe 2009 will be the year ... Meanwhile here's another of those Pevensey views to sign off with.

(Another of Chris Ager's holiday photos)