Friday, May 28, 2010

Molto Marians

My reason for being an Ancients gamer is primarily because of my love for the history of the period.  I've heard it said that there are three major reasons people get into the hobby of Ancient Miniature Wargaming - the gaming aspect, the modeling aspect, and the historical aspect.  For most such hobbyists, it is probably some combination of these three reasons in varying degrees, but for me, if it wasn't for the history, I would probably find something different to spend my leisure time with.  And of my historical interests, it probably all started with the Romans.  I fondly remember as an elementary school student, hanging out in the town library, perusing an abridged copy of Livy, and being sucked into the world the Romans imagined for themselves.  Ever since, the Romans have been of special interest to me, and in particular, those Romans of the Later Republic - or as they are known as in many Ancient rulesets produced before Field of Glory, the Marian Romans.

Marius' Mules.  The image of the citizen legionary soldier resulting from Gaius Marius' reforms is iconic for Ancient wargamers.  No longer a militiaman, but instead, a weathered, disciplined professional with service terms of up to twenty years, marching long distances with all his equipment on his back, and although a skilled swordsman and fighter, a soldier winning more wars with the shovel than the pilum.

For most Ancient rules, the Marians are mediocre though - not at all resembling the conquerors of Marius, Sulla, and Caesar, and usually a bit of a disappointment to play for people new to Ancients with an itch to play one of history's most notable armies.  But with the Field of Glory rules, the Marians now have come into their own.  Not an over the top, "killer" army certainly, but definitely one with powerful troop types, that if competently handled are a legitimate threat to most opponents.

When Field of Glory was first published, like many other players, I wanted to give my Romans a try as quickly as possible.  I did that at first, and fell into the temptation of trying to make the variety of different troop types they get to work as a combined arms force.  I quickly stopped playing them though, for several reasons - one, because I was having trouble with the combined arms approach to this army, and two, because several of the local players who took up Field of Glory initially wanted to do Romans also, so I figured it would be better if I played different armies in order to give them more varied opponents.  Turns out that now that the initial enthusiasm for Field of Glory (and Ancients in general) among the casual local gamers has passed, and we are now left with only the more serious and committed players, there aren't that many Roman players any longer.  With that in mind, I thought it might be a good time to return to my first wargaming love.

Since I'll be bringing my Marians (or Late Republican Romans, as FoG denotes them) back out, I thought I might experiment with abandoning the combined arms approach and go with with the almost all legionaries all the time approach that can be found under the design notes for this army posted by Simon Hall on the Madaxeman blog.  That approach assumes that since the legionary battlegroups are so powerful on their own, why muck things up by adding other troop types that only give your opponent something else to fight while avoiding the best stuff you have.  Here is a copy of the list that I plan to try out:

CinC 1xFC
Sub-commanders 2xTC
Fortified Camp
2xField Entrenchments
4xLH Unprotected, Average, Undrilled, Javelins, Light Spear
4xLH Unprotected, Average, Undrilled, Javelins, Light Spear
8xLF Unprotected, Average, Undrilled, Bow
4xHF Armored, Superior, Drilled, Impact Foot, Skilled Swordsmen

4xHF Armored, Superior, Drilled, Impact Foot, Skilled Swordsmen
4xHF Armored, Superior, Drilled, Impact Foot, Skilled Swordsmen
4xHF Armored, Superior, Drilled, Impact Foot, Skilled Swordsmen
4xHF Armored, Superior, Drilled, Impact Foot, Skilled Swordsmen
8xHF Armored, Superior, Drilled, Impact Foot, Skilled Swordsmen
8xHF Armored, Superior, Drilled, Impact Foot, Skilled Swordsmen
4xCv Protected, Superior, Undrilled, Light Spear, Swordsmen
11 Battlegroups, +2 Initiative, 798 Points

Basically, the army has minimal support troops, but an opponent won't break this army unless he comes toe-to-toe with at least some of the Legionaries.  I'm excited about trying this configuration as soon as I can break free for a couple of games.

As far as figure selection goes, up until now I've been using Old Glory 15's, but they are close to the first 15mm scale army that I painted once I decided to move to the smaller scale from 25mm.  They are alright I guess, but I've never really been satisfied with them, and I wanted to find something that I like better.  I have  settled on a combination of Corvus Belli Marian Romans and Testudo Caesarian Romans that will move into this army as soon as I get them painted up.  In the meantime, the Old Glory 15's will still continue to do yeoman's duty for me.

Below are several photos of my completed units from the different manufacturers for comparison purposes.

The top photo is of the Old Glory 15 figures. Serviceable I guess is the word to describe them.  In the middle is an eight stand unit from Corvus Belli.  I bought the standing version of these guys, because for heavy infantry (especially drilled ones) I like to have relatively non-dynamic poses with weapons in an upright position - makes them easier to rank up and I like the more uniform look better.  The bottom photo is of a four stand unit using Testudo figures - once again all in the standing pose.  I really like both the Testudo and the Corvus Belli lines.  Lots of character in the figures, and they were very easy to paint.  I especially like the shield patterns that come engraved on the Testudo figures, and I got the figures during a very lucrative clear out sale at Scale Creep Miniatures.  The Testudo figures are larger than both the OG 15's and the Corvus Belli ones, but they look fine to me as long as the figures are in separate units.  I have a hard time deciding if I like the Corvus Belli figures or the Testudo ones better.  If I have to choose, I think that I would go with the Testudo, but the Corvus Belli are also very attractive, and easily available in the US - I got mine from the Warstore, with delivery to my house in only 2 days time.

Anyway, I'm missing out on a local FoG gaming day this weekend due to a family trip to Cape Cod, but I really hope to get a chance to put these figures on the table before Historicon comes.

Given how much I enjoy the Testudo figures, I will have to check into getting via direct order from Italy some of their Thirty Years War 15mm figures once Field of Glory Renaissance is published this September.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Empires and Barbarians

Things have been real busy lately - work's picking up and the kids are burying me with extracurricular activities, so I haven't had much time to post...or paint...or game even.  I still can find a bit of time though before lights out to read, so I figured I would post a quick recommendation for the latest history book I'm just finishing up - "Empires and Barbarians - The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe", by Peter Heather.

I've read a bit of Heather's other books, including "The Fall of the Roman Empire" published several years ago, and when first starting "Empires and Barbarians" I feared that this new book would be simply a rehash of that one.  I couldn't have been more wrong!  Where "The Fall of the Roman Empire" concentrated on the Roman point of view, "Empires and Barbarians" tells the story from the barbarians' perspective.  And the scope of the work is absolutely breathtaking - starting in the 3rd Century and extending to the end of the 10th Century.  The book is not a narrative history, and is probably not for someone who doesn't already have a good working familiarity with the events of the period covered, but it is jam packed with theories (some of which are surely controversial) and the latest information on modern migration theory, state formation, ethnogenesis, and archaeological research - all covered in a easy to read, conversational manner that makes it much easier to grasp the very complex content of the book.

"Empires and Barbarians" is just way too full of material for me to take the time and space for a full review here, but for those interested in the Fall of Rome period, and the somewhat misnamed "Dark Ages" period that followed, let me just state that Heather comes down in between the mass migration theories of the Volkwanderung, and the more modern theories of assimilation and elite population transfers.  There probably isn't a lot of directly applicable wargaming information in here, but if you find this period as fascinating as I have, then this is a must read.  A soon to be classic even.  Of special unique interest is Heather's theories on Slavic origins, the transformation of a good deal of what was once German speaking populations to Slavic speaking ones in a wide expanse of Europe, the Viking diaspora, and the increase in barbarian military capacity due to the transfer of wealth from over the Empire's borders into the Barbarian lands beyond.  Although I have never been personally opposed to more open immigration policies into the USA (I'm not sure that my own grandparents got in with "official" papers after all), and although Heather never actually makes any direct comparisons himself, it was inescapable while reading not to reflect on the issues of mass "illegal" immigration presently taking place into the American border states.

All in all, in my opinion, "Empires and Barbarians" is probably the best and most scholarly history book that I have read in the last several years.

Now to find some time to get back to wargaming and painting.  I have several units of Corvus Belli Marian Romans waiting to get finished up soon.