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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
or on Mastodon @balkandave@mastodon.scot, or Threads @davewatson1683

Tuesday 30 December 2014

To the Strongest

'To the Strongest' is a new set of wargame rules for the ancient and medieval periods by Simon Miller.

I was attracted to them following a couple of reviews including the latest edition of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy. The mechanisms are very different from anything I have played before, offering up the prospect of a quick game.

So what's different?

Firstly, there is no time wasted on measurements because it uses a grid. You don't need ugly squares on your tabletop, I just put felt pen black dots on the reverse side of my normal cloth. Units generally move one square for foot, two for mounted. Diagonal and sideways moves are possible, but require higher activation card scores. This really does speed up play and obviates the need for any debate over movement distances, match ups etc that can get in the way of a game like FoG. You can use different size squares depending on the scale of figures you want to use.

Secondly, there are no dice. Instead you use two packs of playing cards. You separate the court cards out to be used for strategems. The number cards are used for everything else. Activation requires anything other an Ace to start with and you can keep going so long as you draw a higher card. If you fail that ends the turn for that command. Activation can be used to move, shoot or charge into melee. Again the cards are used with a minimum score to hit, plus or minus a few modifiers. Then the defender saves and then hits back. There are different hit scores and saves for units in the generic or specific army lists.

I have only played one game, but it works very well. I used 100 Years War French and English and it resulted in a quick game that looked and felt right for the period. Melees did drag on a little longer than I would have expected, but they may just have been the luck of the cards.


The rules come as a very reasonably priced (£9.99) PDF download and are nicely laid out with hyperlinks between the relevant sections. The QRF could have done with a few more of the basics, but once you have played a few times, I suspect the numbers will be remembered easily enough. There are a few army lists available as a free download and the generic points system is easily adaptable for others.

Playing cards are perhaps not visually great, but you can substitute poker chips or something else. The MDF markers are ammo chips. Each shooting unit has a limited number at the start of the game, another rarely used mechanism in ancient wargaming.

These rules are a bit different and well worth look at this price.


Saturday 27 December 2014

Some wargaming inspiration - 2015 anniversaries

As we approach the New Year, I will do my usual look forward to military anniversaries. 2015 will see some pretty significant commemorations that I suspect we will see represented on wargame tables across the globe.

There are a few in the Balkans.

The Gallipoli campaign started in April 2015 and in May Italy joined the war on the side of the Entente. In October, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers and invaded Serbia, which together with the renewed German/Austrian offensive, spelt the end for Serbian resistance and led to the long and terrible retreat over the Albanian mountains.

Talking of Albania, they will undoubtedly celebrate the birth of Norman Wisdom, a somewhat bizarre cultural icon on Albania. His films were one of the few western productions allowed in that country during the Hoxha regime.

In April 1815, the Second Serbian uprising against the Ottomans started and this led to the recognition of Serbia as a semi-independent state. The Ottomans had more success a hundred years earlier in July 1715 when the fall of Nauplion in the Peloponnese, effectively ends Venetian resistance to Ottomans in the Morea.

Five hundred years ago, 615 is the date usually ascribed to the Slav invasion of the Balkans that led to the modern day Serbian and Croat states. Actually, the Slavs slipped into the Balkans gradually over many years, but 615 saw significant events such as the siege of Thessalonica.

Interesting though these anniversaries are to me, I suspect one or two others might get more prominence. The 200th anniversary of Waterloo is of course the big one, alongside the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt 1415. I see the Perry’s are ahead of the game with their new plastics for the period.

In Scotland, we have the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion and the Battle of Sheriffmuir. While in England the 1215 signing of Magna Carta will no doubt be remembered, with probably less attention given to the subsequent First Barons War.

The Swiss will want to make a noise about the November 1315 Battle of Morgarten, when they defeated Leopold’s Austrians and went on to found the Swiss Confederation. For gamers of a certain age, the William Tell TVseries will be a reminder of the period. Even if it was filmed in Snowdonia.

And finally, not to miss out our American cousins who may wish to mark the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the first combat troops (US Marines) in Vietnam 1965. More significantly, it is also the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War.

More than a few events here to keep us busy painting and gaming in 2015.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Dystopian Wars - Russian Coalition

The battle flotilla of the Russian Coalition joins my Dystopian Wars collection. That's a Dreadnought, 3 gunships, 4 destroyers and 2 submarines.

They got their first outing today, doing battle with the Ottomans. Only my second game and the rule book can be a bit irritating as you have to keep flitting back and forward. Not to mention remembering all the special rules. However, it plays fairly well and once I get used to the characteristics of each ship, I'm sure it will get quicker.



Sunday 7 December 2014

Battle of Kolubara - December 1914

One hundred years ago, in December 1914, Serbian troops counterattacked at the Battle of Kolubara and drove the Austro-Hungarian army from Serbian territory.

Apart from the anniversary, my attention was drawn to the battle when I acquired a copy of the novel ‘A Time of Death’ by Dobrica Cosic. Not easy to get hold of and my copy came from a US bookseller – it once graced the shelves of Anaheim Public Library in California.

The novel catches the confused and desperate nature of the fighting in the mountains of north-western Serbia. It follows the story of the 1st Army commander Zivojin Misic and a group of students who are called up to bolster the ranks of the retreating Serbian army.

The battle started on 16 November, when the Austro-Hungarians, commanded by Oskar Potiorek, reached the Kolubara River. They had captured the strategic town of Valjevo and forced the Serbian Army to retreat. The Serbs abandoned Belgrade on 30 November.

The book focuses on the surprise Serbian counterattack on 2 December. The Austro-Hungarian forces were extended with weak supply lines which meant they were unable to take full advantage of their superiority in artillery. The Serbian retreat had allowed a brief rest for the hard-pressed troops and supplies of artillery shells and other equipment had arrived.

The Serbs retook Valjevo on 8 December and the Austro-Hungarians retreated to Belgrade, which had to be abandoned on 15 December. Both armies suffered heavy casualties, with more than 20,000 dead on each side. However, the defeat humiliated Austria-Hungary and Potiorek was relieved of his command.

‘A Time of Death’ has been criticised as a nationalist polemic, largely I suspect due to the author’s later political career. He was the first President of the rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in 1992, riding a wave of Serbian nationalism and was a supporter of the Bosnian Serb Army during the Bosnian War. Although he later fell out with Milosevic.

In fairness, while the book entirely focuses on the Serbian forces, it doesn’t spare the command deficiencies of the Serbian high command. By modern standards of historical fiction this book can be tough going and could have been more concise. However, it does give a gritty portrayal of winter warfare in the mountains. It was certainly grim and you can only admire the endurance of the men involved.

Early war Serbian troops in 28mm from my collection