Home Forums Ancients Ancient Wargaming and Terrain (or lack of it)

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  • #3686
    Blackhat
    Blackhat
    Participant

    I mostly play historical games from around 1640 onwards but have dabbled now and again in ancients (and yes, I know it is odd for a man who produces a huge range of 15mm ancient figures).

    I have 28mm Dark Age armies and really enjoy that period and I play Command and Colours for Punic Wars.

    The problem I have with earlier ancient games is that most of them seem to have taken place on plains with no terrain.  Having grown up with Featherstone, Nash  and Wesencraft, I like my tables to have hills and hedges, walls and buildings, streams and bridges.  Ancient battlefields just look a bit, well, boring to my eye.

    There doesn’t seem much manouevre beyond the initial deployment (and I’ve seen DBM games won on deployment) whereas I like the opportunity to grab a hill, anchor my flank on a wood, etc.

    Anyone else struggle with open plains?

    Black Hat Miniatures -
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    #3697
    A Lot of Gaul
    A Lot of Gaul
    Participant

    That’s a bit like complaining that sea battles feature too much water, isn’t it?   

    Seriously, the majority of large-scale ancient battles were fought on open plains, often anchored on one or both flanks by mountains, woods, rivers, or the sea. The types of close, massed formations used in most ancient armies tended to rapidly lose cohesion in anything other than relatively flat, featureless terrain. For that reason, choosing a battlefield with favorable terrain was actually enormously important to ancient commanders, particularly in regard to obtaining the high ground. Finding favorable terrain in which to deploy the army so as to make best use of its strengths (and exploit any weaknesses in the opponent’s forces) was a primary concern, and an ancient general would often refuse to do battle if possible, rather than fight on terrain that put his army at too great a disadvantage. Having said all that, terrain does feature prominently in a number of ancient battles – the Battle of Lake Trasimene during the Second Punic War being just one notable example.

    Then there is the issue of scenario-based wargaming versus tournament play. In my experience, terrain features are often very important in historically-based and scenario-based ancients tabletop battles. Ancients tournament competitions, on the other hand, being concerned primarily with providing an even chance of victory – i.e. a ‘level playing field’ – for both sides, often do seem to be fought on tabletops featuring little or no terrain. This in turn could lead some players to assume that all ancient battles were done so.

    Those are my thoughts as a long-time ancients wargamer, anyway.

    Cheers,

    Scott

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 9 months ago by A Lot of Gaul A Lot of Gaul.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 9 months ago by A Lot of Gaul A Lot of Gaul.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 9 months ago by A Lot of Gaul A Lot of Gaul.

    "Experience is the teacher of all things."
    ~ Gaius Julius Caesar

    #3703

    Trasimene! Oh yes, a belter (though Ewan’s not looking too keen). Is this enough terrain?

    Trasimene – An Ilkley Lads demo game.

     

     

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    #3718
    Blackhat
    Blackhat
    Participant

    I realise that I am making something of a sweeping generalisation about ancients, but it was a sudden revelation that made me realise why I have struggled with games in the past in this period.

    I also dislike more high level games which abstract the terrain – I guess I like my table to look a bit like a railway layout with lots of trees and hedges on it…

     

    Mike

     

    Black Hat Miniatures -
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    #3719
    Angel Barracks
    Angel Barracks
    Moderator

    … I guess I like my table to look a bit like a railway layout with lots of trees and hedges on it… Mike…

     

    I can dig that.
    Me too.

    However, on the plus side you have realised what it is about them that puts you off though.

     

     

    #3720

    Henry Hyde
    Participant

    An ancient battle in which terrain played a dramatic role: Thermopylae. Only thing is that the Persian player doesn’t get to use many of his toys at any one time…

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    #3723

    Simon Miller
    Participant

    There were some battles where a hill, wood or stream did have an impact.  Terrain may have had an impact in other battles, but this may not have been recorded.  And some sorts of terrain, like the stone wall that was so important at Fredericksburg, wouldn’t make a material difference in a pre-gunpowder battle.

    I’ve recently been thinking that my battlefields look a bit sparse, and plan to make some fields and other terrain features that will only be there for aesthetic purposes.

    #3726

    Trebian
    Participant

    I will admit to putting rivers and trees on the edges of battle fields to break them up a bit. However, open plains is where most of the fighting is done. Except for those battles where it isn’t such as Issus and Granicus and Cannae and….

    #3728

    I have to admit that I tend, for non-historical refights, to add much more terrain than would be typical. Funny thing is, no one seems to mind that few of my ancient games have been fought on a totally bare plain. Here is a link to an ongoing 2nd Punic War campaign. The games have been interesting.

    http://olicanalad.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/2nd%20Punic%20War%20Campaign%202014

    At heart, when it comes to war gaming, I’m a gamer not a historian. Dear me, what an admission.

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    #3732

    Henry Hyde
    Participant

    At heart, when it comes to war gaming, I’m a gamer not a historian. Dear me, what an admission.

     

    Gasp!  😀

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    #3742

    I think I should expand.

    I never war game anything I don’t know about. I certainly never buy a war games figure until I’ve read at least a handful of books on the period to which they belong. Anyone going to my blog can see the list of books on my shelves associated with each of my collections. I love the history!

    Nothing gives me more pleasure than re-fighting actual engagements of the past. I try, as best I can, to recreate the battles with correct OOB, deployments and terrain. I try to find or write rules that recreate the tactics of the period and its flavour. History slightly over ‘game’. Again, my blog has lots of them documented.

    But, when it comes to imagination style campaigns and battles, set in one of my chosen historical periods,  I become more interested in making the games as entertaining, within the possible bounds of the period, as I can. If more terrain than would be historically accurate makes for a better, fun giving game then I’m afraid that more terrain it is. It might be one of the reasons most of my campaigns make it through to completion – the players in my current Punic campaign are not complaining about always fighting on a flat featureless table. Nor are they complaining about the non-historical nature of the battlefields. Game and history in balance.

    But as umpire, if I have to come down on the side of history or fun, in either the case of historical refight or imaginary set up, FUN WILL WIN. If the players cease to have fun, what’s the point of the game or the hobby?

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    #3745

    Mark Lewis
    Participant

    I like my tables to have hills and hedges, walls and buildings, streams and bridges. Ancient battlefields just look a bit, well, boring to my eye. 

     

    As has been mentioned above, ancient battlefields were generally quite sparse in terms of terrain. And when there were terrain features, they would generally be areas of rough or rocky ground, hills, maybe a vineyard, but not normally man-made features such as hedges, walls, buildings or bridges.

    Actually I think many tournament type wargames rules that include terrain generation rules actually end up with more terrain that the typical ancient battlefield.  It’s rare to see a completely open battlefield in a tournament game (as normally in these rules the players have some control over the terrain, and one player will want more terrain than the other) but many ancient battlefields were completely open.

     

    #3752

    Trebian
    Participant

    Most terrain generation systems (IMHO) provide unrealistic terrain which players have too much control over. I’ve heard all the arguments about the skill of a General in choosing ground etc and I don’t agree with them.

     

    Despite my last post most ancient battlefields are open. After that the most common terrain feature is a river*.

    Trebian

    * There was an article to Slingshot by Paul Sz analysing historical battlefields and terrain features which came up with this finding.

    #3769
    Mick Sayce
    Mick Sayce
    Participant

    Teutoberger Wald had a few trees scattered about if memory serves.  ; )

    Blog at : http://thewordsofsubedai.blogspot.co.uk/

    #3809
    Oh no....
    Oh no….
    Participant

    I tend to have more terrain than the various rule sets advise. I think it looks better and its also more of a test of the gamers generalship, which can make it fun. 🙂

    #3811

    Trebian
    Participant

    Wingate,

    I don’t agree that lots of terrain is a test of a players generalship. It may test one part of their understanding of the rules, but if it is seriously asymmetrical then it tells you nothing. The classic ancient wargame, chess, has no terrain at all.

    What we all agree is that lots of terrain can look very nice. The danger is that you’re saying “I want lots of terrain on my table. How can I justify it even if it isn’t historical?”

    Trebia

     

     

    #3813
    Blackhat
    Blackhat
    Participant

    I am not trying to justify adding terrain to Ancient games, merely pointing out that I have realised why I don’t enjoy them.

    Any game which is simply a match up of troops on a featureless plain just doesn’t appeal to what I want from a game and I am very much a GAMER first.

    I also find a lot of Naval games uninteresting due to the same issues, though Age of Sail games do have wind and manouevring as an added complication.

    Black Hat Miniatures -
    http://www.www.blackhat.co.uk/

    #3820

    Henry Hyde
    Participant

    I think one of the appeals of big battle classical ancients is that it does, in fact, provide a very ‘pure’ test of generalship with, quite literally, nowhere to hide. But there are plenty of instances of smaller battles and ambushes fought on campaign that provide variety.

    I’ve had a love of classical ancients since reading the late Charles Grant’s “On Matters Military” column in Battle for Wargamers back in the 1970s and of course Tony Bath’s “Hyboria” campaign. All those swirling battles with nary a tree in sight, but still incredibly exciting.

    Other than sieges, I think it’s probably only from the 1700s onwards, with the increasing use of light infantry, Grenzers and the like and ‘la petite guerre’ that I expect to see occupied terrain features playing a key part in games. Prior to that, dense woods, steep hills and so on tended to confine combatants to a relatively flat and open area between them – a number of significant medieval battles come to mind. At most, there might be one side occupying a dominant hill, or river crossing (someone above made the point that analysis reveals rivers to be a common feature).

    All that messy terrain plays havoc with unit cohesion!

    Good point about naval warfare, Mike. It’s only very recently that I’ve fallen in love with Age of Sail because of a fun ruleset (Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls by Alan Abbey) and the lovely GHQ ships, which are less expensive than Langtons and a great deal easier to assemble!

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 9 months ago by  Henry Hyde.

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    #3900
    Oh no....
    Oh no….
    Participant

    If we play a classical battle, we have the classical terrain but as we don’t often fight classical battles we use terrain that looks good and is a bit more interesting. Its not a case of testing gamers memories or interpretation of a rule set or looking for some kind of wonderful revelation, we game for the fun and enjoyment we get out of the game. We all like to win, or be on the winning side, but its not the be all and end all of why we play.

    Chess is an interesting game but doesn’t have the visual effect of a table full of figure, which is why I wargame rather than play chess every week.

    It depends on where in the world your battle is set and also the period as to how much terrain is right, as well as personal preference.

    I didn’t realise it was so dangerous to stray from the recommended sparse terrain, the thought had never occurred to me. I layout terrain that I am happy with, I certainly don’t need to justify it to anyone. Symmetrical terrain is just so false, can’t think of any battles, classical or otherwise with symmetrical terrain.

    Note; The “we” referred to above are the local gamers that play regularly together for fun over a few bottles of beer. Only one ever takes part in competition gaming.

    #3904
    Blackhat
    Blackhat
    Participant

    Henry,

    I agree that terrain features weren’t occupied until probably the 17th century, but the dense woods and hills have the effect of breaking up the single solid line of troops that so often feature in Ancient battles. To me, the ability to anchor a flank on something other than a table edge makes the game more interesting.

     

     

    Black Hat Miniatures -
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    #3910

    I love classical ancient naval battles. There is often a coastline, sometimes an island, but usually little else. The fun of these battles comes from the complete chaos of lots of ‘units’ operating in small spaces. We don’t play that many ancient naval battles because we think of them as ‘fillers’ between more substantial games,partly because the lack of terrain makes them so easy to set up. It is rare for us to fight historical re-fights as there are so few with detailed accounts.

    I like to think that the rules we use help to make the battles exciting and furious affairs. They are available here as a professionally published free download:

    http://www.flamesofwar.com/Portals/0/Documents/WargamesIllustrated/FleetOfBattle.pdf

    http://www.flamesofwar.com/Portals/0/Documents/WargamesIllustrated/FleetOfBattle-Playsheets.pdf

     

    Economus 256 BC

    Drepana 249 BC

    A filler battle.

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    #3923

    Henry Hyde
    Participant

    Those are gorgeous, James! I’ve never played an ancients sea battle – that looks very tempting.

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    #3926
    Adam Hayes
    Adam Hayes
    Participant

    Using the terrain to your advantage is one of the skills of a general, real or tabletop. I expect that competition gamers don’t  want the inconvenience of it interrupting their carefully designed cheeses tactics…

    #3927

    Trebian
    Participant

    Adam,

    I would say that the great Generals fight on the terrain they want to (which is actually different to what you said). What this means is that say your opponent is able to get terrain out that works to his advantage then you simply don’t fight on it. As for cheesy tactics..well I’d sy from what I have observed of competition gamers it is the use of terrain that brings out the real cheese.

    Anyway, each to his own. The facts are (as stated at the start of this thread) that ancient battles do not tend to be terrain heavy. If you want lots of terrain then by all means use it. Just don’t pretend it’s realistic.

    Trebian

     

     

    #3930
    Mick Sayce
    Mick Sayce
    Participant

    Lovely looking models there James. I think I’ve got a set of Trireme rules from waaaay back in a filing draw somewhere. No ships though.

    Blog at : http://thewordsofsubedai.blogspot.co.uk/

    #3957

    Thanks, guys.

    Anyone looking to buy ships for this period should take a look at the 1:600 scale ships by Xyston and Skytrex (there may be other manufacturers). The ones above are Xyston. I have found that ancient sea battles require quite large models because:

    1. They visually aid keeping track of what is happening – especially in big battles.
    2. They are physically easier to grab in the pell mell of an ancient naval melee – to move them without  nudging and accidentally moving other ships.
    3. With size comes painting detail – there isn’t much to a galley to work with in smaller scales.

    Alternatively, if I were to do it in a smaller scale, I would base three smaller vessels (1:1200?) on a single base. This would help with 1 & 2 above, but the saving in cost and painting time hardly makes it worth while.

    You’ll also notice that I use a lot of counters (mostly beads) in my naval games. This is because I never use roster / damage sheets. In a battle where one player is fighting up to forty ships a time it is MUCH quicker, and things like hull damage don’t get forgotten, if all the information is on the table in front of you.

     

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    #4291
    Howard Whitehouse
    Howard Whitehouse
    Participant

    One thing I’ve noticed is that wargamers (probably unconsciously) are most comfortable with terrain that looks like the landscape they are familiar with. Blackhat wants hedges, which are extremely English – indeed, post medieval English.  My friend John from Atlanta always lays out battlefields that look like Georgia; we have to take off half the trees.  People from Nebraska own no hills whatsoever. They’ve seen them in photos, but never in real life.

    I assume the Lagos Wargames Society always has a certain amount of mangrove swamp in their Napoleonic battles.

     

     

    I do all my own stunts.

    #4306
    Allen Curtis
    Allen Curtis
    Participant

    I’m finishing up the latest batch of 15mm PSC WWII British infantry for NW Europe.  Victoria’s comment on the basing: “Looks like desert.”

    Allen

    #4315

    Henry Hyde
    Participant

    People from Nebraska own no hills whatsoever. They’ve seen them in photos, but never in real life. I assume the Lagos Wargames Society always has a certain amount of mangrove swamp in their Napoleonic battles.

    I am actually laughing very hard, whilst wiping tea off my screen with one hand.

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    #4330
    Howard Whitehouse
    Howard Whitehouse
    Participant

    In that case I have come to the right place!

    The joke in places like Nebraska, Saskatchewan etc is “My dog ran away. I watched him go for three days.”

    I do all my own stunts.

    #4366
    kyoteblue
    kyoteblue
    Participant

    And saw his dust for another two days….Yes Howard I think this is a very nice place.

    #4388

    Trebian
    Participant

    Allen,

    You touch on a good point, – what colour do you paint bases of armies that fight in both Europe and Asia. The Macedonians start off in Greece (mostly green) go via Persia (mostly sand) and end up in India (green again).

    I ended up just going for green for everything to match my base board.

    Except for those figures on sandy bases….

    Trebian

     

     

     

    #4389

    Trebian
    Participant

    Howard,

     

    Very true on making tables like your own back yard. I catch myself doing it (which is okay for ECW as I live up the road from Naseby*).

    Whenever I holiday in areas that I also game in I try to take pictures of just countryside so I can re-create it better. My AK47 tables changed after going to Tanzania, for example.

    Trebian

    * Actually this is not the case as the land has been enclosed, but it sounded clever when I wrote it.

     

     

    #4394
    Mick Sayce
    Mick Sayce
    Participant

    Unless you can afford/store/justify boards for various terrain types i.e. Europe, desert, sea, space etc. which I cannot do, for years now everything I paint now goes on bases that are painted to match my boards which are dirt coloured with clumps of grass all over. To my mind it looks better and gives a look of continuity to the whole thing. (Don’t know what I’ll do if I ever take up naval wargaming.)

    Blog at : http://thewordsofsubedai.blogspot.co.uk/

    #4407

    Trebian
    Participant

    I have one table, painted the same green as my figure bases. Then I have a desert cloth to go over it for the Sudan and similar.

    #4443
    Howard Whitehouse
    Howard Whitehouse
    Participant

    I have boards of various sizes that go on top of the table – grass, desert, grey urban and  white snowscape. I’ve been using the white more than anything recently for the wargamerish reason that I can find the trees that go with it, and the box of ‘regular’ trees is missing somewhere in my basement. All my test games for a set of rules called ‘Flint and Feather’ (C17th N. America) have been held in the frozen winter forests of the Great Lakes region. If I ever find the box of ‘spring and summer’ trees, we can fight in nicer weather.

    I do all my own stunts.

    #4528
    Oh no....
    Oh no….
    Participant

    I use carpet tiles, I have green and a sand colour. Its just a case of swopping them over depending on the game. You do have to have two sets of hills but thats no great challenge, I use cork tiles topped off with the relevant colour to make contoured hills. One thing I think you do need is a lip around the edge of the table to keep them in place.

    #4534

    Henry Hyde
    Participant

    I have a green table and a selection of cloths. Sometimes I’ll place hills on top, but especially for desert war I mostly place lumpy stuff under the cloth to create a landscape. For weeny 1/285  and larger, multiple-based stuff, it works just fine. Roads and rivers and everything else go on top.

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    #4535
    Steve Burt
    Steve Burt
    Participant

    I use flat terrain boards, which have grass on one side and sand on the other. I also have another set which are snow one side and urban on the other.

    Being flat they all store in a big pile; some of them have rivers and I also have cut out bits to make wider rivers or coast. Hills and roads go on top.

    I tried the cloth method years ago but the cats took it as an invitation for one to go under the cloth while the other pounced from the top. This is not so good for the terrain.

    With the current set up all I have to worry about is the trees being stolen and the dice batted under the piano.

    #4552
    Patrice
    Patrice
    Participant

    I was using the same old green cloth since nearly 20 years…

    ..then my friends actually forbade me to bring it again! and we have been making some boards…

    …but we still have to make more hills and hedges.

    wargamers (probably unconsciously) are most comfortable with terrain that looks like the landscape they are familiar with.

    Yes, our tables don’t look like Brittany enough yet.

    And skirmish games allow more terrain features than mass battles.

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