You might wonder, amid all the pontificating here, when the author has time to actually commit wargaming. I mean, it must take up most of his limited mental capacity just writing this stuff, let alone the time it takes to read some of the obscure tomes he refers to, to make actual wargaming a practical impossibility.
You would, of course, be right.
Nevertheless, occasionally wargaming does happen. For the last few weeks (or possibly months) I have been working up towards having a battle, as the estimable Mrs P calls it. Why, you might ask, has it taken you so long?
As those of you with very long memories might recall, the current campaign of choice is one set in around 360 BC in Greece and the surrounding seas, islands and bits of the Persian Empire. The first, and so far only, battle we an episode in a Spartan Civil War where one king and his allies defeated the other, with a little help from his Theban friends.
For battlefields I usually use a random terrain generating system, and takes what it throws at me. For the Spartan battle I landed up with a ditch running across the battlefield, and so had to pause while I created some ditches. This was not too hard, but it did take some effort and a tiny bit of ingenuity, and the resulting battle, with the new terrain, was an interesting success.
This time, my random campaign system (OK, it is not quite that random, but it does throw up some interesting battles between groups that the Greeks would probably not have recorded) yielded an encounter between a Persian punitive expedition and some recalcitrant Thracians. Needless to say, my mind’s eye was filled with famous episodes from wargame history, such as Charles Grant’s Wagon Train Table Top Teaser, and Donald Featherstone’s punitive expedition to the North-West Frontier as described, if I recall correctly, in Wargame Campaigns.
I accordingly reverted to my random terrain system, and started to roll. And here everything unravelled, of course. I rolled a settlement (fair enough, we have to have a target for a punitive expedition, after all), a road, and a river. And that was it. Not much for the Thracians to hide behind and jump out at the Persians from.
A little thought and a few more dice rolls yielded the fact that at least the Persians would have to ford the river to attain their target. A few more dice rolls also established that both sides were, in total, employing more peltasts that are in my collection. However, a little sweep through my collection and pondering yielded the Persian peltasts being re-interpreted as earlier Persian infantry, possibly militia types left over from the invasion of Greece a century or so before.
This left me with only three further problems. Firstly, there was the fact that my terrain box had no rivers in it. Secondly that my road sections were both inadequate and, if looked at sideways, nearly as tall as the figures. Thirdly was the problem that my buildings did not, by any stretch of the imagination, cover a town and port on the north coast of Turkey.
The road problem was the simplest to solve. A number (about 5, I think) of new road sections were produced, consisting of ‘fun foam’ with glued and dusted banks. A lot lower than the originals, and something that the troops can see over. I also managed to make a junction piece, and some curved sections as well. A great deal of terrain for minimal cost and effort, I thought (rather smugly, as it turns out).
The rivers were a bit more problematic. I did the same again with the banks, but then thought that it would be nice if the water bit were, at least, slightly shiny. I painted the bed in a rather fetching cappuccino brown colour, and then applied a coat of gloss varnish. That should do it. After it dried, I showed it to the estimable Mrs P, who asked if I had varnished it yet. Another coat was applied, and then another. Finally, a surface which was a little shiny was obtained, and so I left it at that. A bit shiny is good enough for me.
This left me with the buildings. Some Middle Eastern flat roofed houses and some Middle Eastern shacks were painted. Fine, but not enough buildings were painted for the area to cover. I went through my buildings, but even I cannot quite justify Saxon longhouses as Greek or Thracian homes. A few Roman bits were added, but I really thought that I would have to make the various bits left over from my Irregular Mediterranean town. Fortunately, I found a half-painted Italian farmhouse, that was going to double as a mansion, and I am now in the process of finishing that.
And this ramble has, finally, led me to the point. All this is very fine (if very slow, I’ll grant) wargame fare. Perhaps I have given myself too long to think about it. But is a wargame where one side sets out to destroy the homes of the other really a respectable game?
I have even written rules for the length of time the Persians have to occupy the town to consider their mission accomplished. I cannot deny that such missions did take place, and probably did during the Persian Empire (certainly they did under Alexander, and the Romans did a lot of punitive expedition-ing). There is no doubt, really, that the game is historically justified. The war might even be legal – the Persians, to measure them by a later yard-stick, may well be entirely justified in their actions. So, too, might the Thracians. But as I, as a wargamer, justified in creating the battle, involving the (admittedly fictional) destruction of people’s homes and livelihoods?
I am almost certainly not going to let this qualm put me off, of course. It is, after all, fiction. I have no pretence that my town would look like a Greek town in Persia, not that my 360 BC campaign bears anything like resemblance to the ‘real’ thing. But just occasionally I do get a little bit wobbly about this. Someone tell me I don’t need to, please.