Viriathus, Enemy of Rome

Following on from my recent Punic Wars gaming, I found myself stuck at home having to self-isolate. Tom WD suggested a Zoom game to cheer me up so I got organising. Of course, this meant that I’d just have to use my own collection, so I plumped for the fascinating campaigns of Viriathus.

Left: Viriathus and his bodyguard cavalry fight a losing battle against the Principes.

Viriathus (Viriato in Spain and Portugal) was a charismatic Lusitanian warrior who caused serious problems for the Romans during their occupation of Hispania in the 2nd Century BCE. He comprehensively defeated a Roman force under Praetor Caius Vetilius at the Battle of Tribola (we gamed this in 2017 at the Hereward Wargames Show in Peterborough using Simon Miller’s To The Strongest rules – game report, historical background and photos from this one can be found here: ).

L-R: Viriathus plus chieftains Audax and Ambon. Viriathus and Ambon are from Crusader Miniatures, the others are all Gripping Beast.

I set up a simple scenario based around the Tribola battle, with the Romans attacking a Lusitanian force in the open but with some of the Iberian warbands being concealed on the flanking hillsides and appearing later on during the game. Tom WD messaged me his deployments for the Spanish, while James D (playing the Romans) just adopted a standard triplex acies formation as Vetilius deployed his troops for battle. He was aware that it was hostile territory so kept the cavalry and Triarii handy to cover any sudden appearances!

Roman Commanders Praetor Vetilius and his legate, Marcus. As we can see, Marcus isn’t too chuffed at being posted to Hispania when daddy promised him a comfy job in the Senate.
Initial Roman deployment – two ‘legions’ with cavalry covering the flanks.
The Lusitanians take up position with a force to goad the Romans into the attack with light cavalry, slingers, warriors and Viriathus and his bodyguard in the rear.

We were playing my own Midgard rules again (still testing out ideas) and were experimenting with a couple of new concepts for this game. I’d reduced the Spanish warriors’ attach dice but increased their speed to create a slightly different dynamic to the warbands given their reputation for guerilla warfare, and the ‘Replacement’ trait for Roman manipular formation was also due for another run-out. However, I imposed a penalty on the Triarii to simulate the fact that, if they got into combat, the Roman army would be in trouble. The game uses Reputation to record victory and defeat, and I decided that the Romans would forfeit a Reputation token if the Triarii got into combat, or double that if the combat occurred before any of the Hastati and Principes in the legion had seen action.

The hillsides are full of danger in Lusitania! (My son appeared and decided to add a wolf from my Middle-earth collection into the cave. We decided that any unit encountering this would have to take a Command Test).

I don’t think that James was particularly surprised when some Lusitanian warbands and caetrati under the command of warleader Ambon appeared on the hillside. Marcus promptly wheeled part of his legion to the left to cover this flank, which was an easy manouvre thanks to the Romans’ drilled trait.

Romans advance strongly in the centre and the Lusitanian light cavalry are beaten back.

Roman allied cavalry ride up to deal with the Lusitanian flank attack. Surprisingly, this newly-painted unit acquitted itself well!

The flank attack on the Roman left stalled due to poor leadership, with units not carrying out their orders and Ambon (only a Level 1 Hero) unable to do much about it. This resulted in a combat on Roman terms, with casualties on both sides. Ambon was killed by a Roman pilum and the warbands started to sense defeat.

At this point, the second Spanish ambush (on the Romans’ right flank) was unveiled – two units of slingers emerging from the rocks and trees. Vetilius despatched a pair of units of Velites to deal with them.

More slingers emerge from the woods.

Tom committed Viriathus to the fight, hoping to break his way through Marcus’s legions to the Triarii. However, the Lusitanian cavalry suffered badly and were cut down to a man. Viriathus survived, losing a point of Reputation for having his guard killed around him!

Having escaped the killing of his cavalry, Viriathus joins a fresh warband.

The big fight in the centre continued apace, with the Romans beating back the Spanish. The flank attacks had failed to create the disorder that Viriathus needed for a breakthrough and his men were now being ground down by Roman pressure.

Audax leads the warbands against the Romans.

Praetor Vetilius takes command of the melee and drives off the Lusitanians in the centre.

Marcus’s legion stares down Viriathus and his surviving warriors, who sensibly decide to melt back to the hills.

With teatime being called in all our houses (between Suffolk and Nottingham), we had to call it a day. The Romans had won a clear victory, killing warleader Ambon and retaining 6 Reputation tokens to the Lusitanians’ 1. Had we played another turn, there is no doubt that Viriathus’s army would have broken.

The new rules had worked pretty well. The replacements trait was used on a couple of occasions to shore up the Romans trying to hold off the left flank attack and was instrumental in pulling damaged units out of the line and replacing them with fresh ones. As Viriathus tried to break through. Marcus sent a unit of Triarii in to replace a damaged one of Principes and was justified in doing so – despite the loss of Reputation, the veteran warriors saw off the Spanish in short order.

Despite committing some Triarii to the fight, the Romans have the victory with 6 Reputation tokens remaining. With a mere 1, the Lusitanians are on their way out.

Return to the First Age with Midgard

After an absence of a few months, Paul W and I pulled out our Elf and Orc armies for Middle-earth and set up another game loosely set in the First Age.

Paul has been really helpful with ideas for developing my Midgard battle rules (still in playtesting) and had pretty much memorised my Noldor army list and points values which made life much easier! I cobbled together a somewhat mixed Orc force with some help from my nine-year old son who had decided to join us for the evening’s game (and, probably not unrelated, a cheeseburger).

Left: Orcs and Elves scrap it out over the ancient watchtower.

I decided to put my scratchbuilt watchtower model in as the objective for the game, propped up on a rocky outcrop that would offer some advantages to anyone defending it. We placed a wood on the left flank, but otherwise the battlefield was clear The Orcs were led by a Balrog with a Werewolf, Troll and Orc Captain as lieutenants in command of Orc soldiers, archers and warg riders. The Elves had a goodly number of heroes with the usual mix of spearmen and archers and a sizeable wing of heavy and light cavalry.

Orcs deploy with a double line of soldiers backed up by a Balrog and his Troll bodyguard. A crack force of Orcs led by Akdar the Troll captain has been detailed to assault the tower on the right.
The view from the Elven lines as the forces close.
Akdar the Troll races forward to the watchtower, preceded by archers and warg riders. The silver tokens are Akdar’s Might Points that he can use during the turn to influence his troops and carry out mighty deeds.

The Orcs tried to rush forward towards the Elves but were hampered by some disorder in the ranks; this played into the manicured hands of the Noldor, who unleashed a couple of nasty volleys of arrows against the Werewolf and his Orcish guard, who were pretty much destroyed. The Werewolf survived without a scratch but decided to jump ship to a fresh unit.

Paul’s Elven reputation cup! Still full of reputation tokens at this early stage of the game.

The main Orcish advance didn’t go to plan, but the attack on the tower was much better. Paul got a Noldor spearmen unit in position which was shot at by the Orc scouts before taking a full-on charge from Akdar the Troll and his soldiers. This should have been a more even fight, but the Troll Captain crushed the Elves and drove the survivors back off the hill (with some assistance from Paul’s shocking dice rolling).

Akdar gets stuck in! Farewell Elves. Paul’s Elves are entirely Games Workshop LOTR minis, Akdar the Troll is a Reaper Bones piece, and the Orcs are a combination of plastic kits – largely GW with many conversions.

In the centre, though, Paul was rolling some awesome dice for Elven shooting which put some big holes in the Orc ranks.

The Elves eventually had to stand and fight, coming off worse across the line.

Over on the right flank, next to the watchtower, things got really interesting. Orgul the Swift led a couple of units of warg riders in an effort to hold up the Elves. Outnumbered two to one by enemy horsemen, Orgul opted to draw his scimitar and challenge the Noldor leader to single combat. Despite some heroic dice rolls, Orgul took a wound and then succumbed on the second blow to the Elven blade. Unsurprisingly, the remaining warg riders beat a hasty retreat.

Akdar continued to beat the Elves off the hill. With his trait Fearsome, Akdar’s opponents had to retreat double the usual distance after losing a melee. Unfortunately, the Orcs’ impressive advance took them off the other side of the hill and opened them up to a flank charge from the rearmost Elven cavalry. Ouch.

Akdar gets over excited!

In this final turn, the Orcs lost several units in the centre and had their right flank pretty much rolled up. With the loss of Orgul the Swift, the army’s reputation dropped to 0 and they fled the field, Akdar trying to fight his way out as the sun set.

A good fun game as usual – I’ve tweaked a few areas of the rules recently which streamlined the action. As was my original intent in designing Midgard, we played a game with around 15 units and 4 heroes a side to a decisive conclusion in around two hours, including the heroics of a single combat. My son picked up the rules (and a pink inflatable flamingo) pretty quickly and didn’t object to getting beaten by the Elves! Win-win.

The Elves secure the right flank under the watchtower. Red markers are Charging/ Winning tokens that allow a bonus in these situations.

Did you know that there was an inflatable pink flamingo in the pub function room? Neither did I.

Republican Romans

Following my rediscovery of Punic Wars gaming last month, I pulled the ‘Ancients in progress’ box off the shelf in the painting cupboard, where it had sat unopened for four years. Inside were some half-painted Roman cavalry which demanded finishing off!

Once that was done, I decided to get a few photos of the new cavalry alongside my mini-legion that I’d completed a few years back, so here they are.#

Left: Principes. 28mm plastics by Victrix with an Agema metal character model on the right with green shield.

Obviously, it’s debatable whether you can call these small groups a ‘legion’ at all, but if you’re happy to accept that it’s seriously scaled-down, then it does the job. Scrivs, Martin and I collected one of these each a few years back, basing the Hastati, Principes and Triarii on smaller 80 x 60mm unit bases. The initial plan was to play Hail Caesar with these as ‘small units’ but since then we’ve used them for To The Strongest and Midgard. I’m slightly kicking myself for not using sabot bases now that Saga: Age of Hannibal is available, but hey, I’ll just paint some more for skirmishing!

The mini-legion in battle order
Aerial shot showing the basing.

When I painted this force, I was experimenting with coloured undercoats. This has all been done with Army Painter Fur Brown, which has been left/ washed/ highlighted for the skin, spear shafts and shield backs. If I was doing another legion (never say never) I’d be going with the GW Contrast paints all the way.

Allied Roman cavalry clash with Iberian caetrati and slingers (the Spanish are metal sculpts by Mark Copplestone from the Foundry range, and also some Crusader Miniatures)

Seeing as the cavalry have just been finished, let’s review these first. I confess that these are not actual ‘Roman cavalry’ figures. When Victrix released the Iberian Cavalry set, I snapped one up, despite already owning…errr….substantial numbers of Spanish cavalry in metal. There weren’t yet any Roman cavalry available at that point, so I converted 8 of the Spanish to try to look like allied Romans who had been locally equipped. Martin provided me with some allied Roman heads and I added round shields from the Velites – then painted them red. I think they just about work!

The horses were sprayed with Army Painter coloured undercoats (Desert Yellow and Leather Brown) before being painted with oil paints and then wiped off. This can take a few days to dry but gets horses done quick! In this case, I left the horses for (checks notes) 4 years before doing the rest of the painting. The oils were nicely dry at this point.

Coming back to the riders (who had not seen any paint in their previous life), I quickly sprayed them with Halford’s white primer and blocked them in with GW Contrast paints. These received a bit of highlighting and drybrushing before I called it done.

Seeing as we’re working from the rear of the army, let’s have a look at the Triarii next. These fine fellows are (like the rest of the legion) Victrix plastics apart from a couple of Warlord Games Caesarian Romans that I snuck in for a bit of movement. While not as animated as some of the more recent sets (e.g. Vikings), these fellows DO have chunky spears that won’t snap easily. Bonus..

Triarii with their commander, Praetor Vetilus (Foundry metals)

Now we move on to the main fighting line composed of Principes and Hastati. The red/ white / green of the shields is mostly influenced by the artwork of Peter Connolly, although perhaps there is a subconscious nod to the Italian tricolore there as well?

Hastati. The two front left models have been converted from Velites for a bit of action (I can’t help myself)

And now it’s the turn of those lucky teenagers in the front line, the Velites…

I did something sensible with these and created sabot movement trays so I could use them for skirmishing. The figures are based on 2p coins and magnetised into the tray so they stay in pretty well during play. There’s also a nice dynamic about a plastic model based on a metal coin or washer, in that it’s very hard to knock them over during gaming!

Will this be the last legion for the moment? Do I need an allied legion from Victrix as well? Ooh, shiny! (as my friend Guy would say)…

Punic Wars Revival!

Two games of Saga: Age of Hannibal with Sam had got my Ancient Spanish army out of its boxes and into action; the Iberian battle board is great fun, but I wanted to play something bigger. And so I threw together an encounter battle pitting my Republican Romans* against Sam’s growing Carthaginian force backed up by a substantial number of Spanish.

*For reasons of disclosure, these also included Scrivs’s Romans that have been living in my loft for the last five years. They threw dreadful dice!

Left: Carthaginians (left) try to hold off the Romans (right) from breaking through and taking the pass.

I had thought about using To The Strongest (Simon Miller’s fine set of card-driven big battle rules), but resorted instead to my own Midgard rules (still in playtesting, whenever real life allows. See the linked page on my site here: ). Midgard is designed to play fast-moving big battles with Heroes driving the action and actually worked pretty well for this game, although we dropped the rules for single combats, as it seemed out of scale with Punic Wars big scraps.

Under their commander Khemmitsbaal and two sub-commanders, the Carthaginians mustered:

1 x elephant and attendants

6 x Iberian warbands

4 x African spearmen

4 x Iberian skirmishers

2 x Greek archers

3 x Heavy cavalry

Right: African spearmen muster with the elephant in the centre

Facing off against them were Consul Vetilius and his two sub-commanders, Marcus and Metillius, with:

4 x Velites

4 x Hastati

4 x Principes

2 x Triarii

4 x Light Spanish Cavalry

The Romans were able to be arranged in a manipular formation due to the support rules in Midgard (having friendly units around you is critical to winning sustained combats) and some extra traits thrown in, allowing a fresh unit to replace a worn one. These kept the Romans in the game but the legions took quite a hammering nonetheless!

The game opened with the Romans making their advance in the centre and on the left, hoping to break through there with the legions, while Marcus and the Spanish Light Cavalry took on a delaying role on the right. The drilled trait that the legions had ensured that the fresh Roman units were able to keep up the pace and get quickly into position for the attack.

Marcus and the allied Spanish Light Horse face off against a huge Iberian warband in a delaying action, Marcus and his companion are Copplestone sculpts from Foundry, the Spanish are a mix of Gripping Beast, A&A and Foundry Miniatures.
The main action develops. The Iberian warbands are at the top left, with the Carthaginian centre facing off against the fast-advancing Roman legions. Commander Khemmitsbaal is with the Iberian warbands, clearly keen to get his hands bloody! Sub-Commander Ambon can be seen at the bottom (the metal beads are Might Points, used for heroic deeds and keeping control).

A full-on battle developed in the centre as the Roman legions came to grips with the Carthaginians. Some rough Roman dice rolling resulted in several of the Hastati units struggling to get the breakthrough I had hoped for!

Hold the elephant…hold the elephant….now! Elephant model by Victrix, painted by Sam. The Carthaginian spears and Greek archers are ebay purchases from Sam’s collection (Crusader Miniatures, I believe).
Bold Hastati finally get stuck in to the elephant (and bounce off…) These are Victrix plastics, painted and based by Scrivs. As Midgard works on a set unit frontage (and these are based on smaller bases than the rest), we placed a couple of Scrivs’ markers at either end of the unit to extend its frontage. At the top, you can see a few Roman Velites trying to turn the flank of the Iberians.

With some serious scraping going on around the centre, I was very much hoping to be able to break through. Alas, it was not to be. I had foregone my lucky green Welsh dice for the night and things went against my Romans in short order!

However, there was one lucky break; in combat with my Hastati against the mighty Iberian warband, Sam decided to commit Khemmitsbaal. With the Iberians taking some damage, Khemmitsbaal had to make a ‘Risk to Heroes’ check and ended up with a double 1 (you don’t need to know much about my rules to know that this is a BAD THING). Fortunately he was able to use his final remaining Might Point to reroll one of these dice. Less fortunately, he managed to roll a 1 (again) and was left being carried out of the melee with a pilum wedged through his lungs. Nasty!

My much loved Iberian warband arranged in an unsubtle but effective block. This is a wide variety of 28mm metals from Newline, Essex, Gripping Beast, Foundry, Crusader and First Corps that I painted back in the 2000s. All the shields are by hand, something that I just enjoy.

Alas, Sam got wise to my delaying tactics and pushed forward with all the skirmishers and cavalry on my right flank. Marcus’ Spanish Light Cavalry got somewhat thrashed, with Marcus narrowly making his escape.

Spanish cavalry get sandwiched, having run out of room to evade the Carthaginians. This is gonna smart (it did)..

This hastened the urgency of the Roman main attack, but the dice just wouldn’t come right and it was driven back.

Full-scale scrappage! I’ve missed this.

Nelly is finally felled by some accurate pilum chucking! (I need to get one of those nifty Gripping Beast dead elephant models for these occasions)

The Carthaginian Heavy Cavalry on my left flank fought heroically and just would not crumble, leaving my battered Romans pinned against the rocks. With the clock on two hours exactly, we decided to call it. Neither side had broken but the Romans had only 4 Reputation Tokens left against the Carthaginians’ 7, giving the Africans a solid victory. Had Khemmitsbaal not gotten a bit bloodthirsty in the earlier combat, the Carthaginians would have had an even greater margin of victory.

This was terrific fun and the rules worked very well indeed. I was pleased that my tweaks allowed the manipular system to be modelled to a limited extent and that the command and control felt pretty much just right for the period. Predicatably, I went straight home and pulled out the box of half-painted Punic Wars models that have been sat there since 2017 – we will most definitely be back for more!

Romans on a road to nowhere.

New blog: mogsymakes by James Morris

Many years ago, Big Red Bat guru Simon Miller asked me why I didn’t have a blog to support the various games that I took around wargames shows. “Why would I want a blog?” I asked him. “You’ll get followers,” came the reply. I laughed.

I don’t really do this to get followers, but I love swapping ideas and photos with other gamers around the world. I seem to post on social media every week or so, only then to find myself unable to find my own pictures, battle reports or words of advice just a few weeks later. Questions like this crop up all the time: “Have you got any size comparison pictures with different manufacturers?” “What was the paint recipe you used on your wolves?” “Has anyone had a go at converting Elf cavalry/ Cretan gendarmes/ Sikh sappers?” “How does Muskets & Tomahawks II play?” And often, I say, “Yes, but…just let me find it…” Hopefully mogsymakes will go some way towards helping out with these senior moments of social media.

My chum Scrivs claims that one of his main reasons for having a blog is to be able to find his paint recipes several years down the line; I can confirm this, having used several of his colour schemes after looking them up online! I’ve gone for something in between a blog and a website, in that I have different pages and sections where I will hopefully archive posts to make them easier to find. It is still very much in its infancy, so any helpful suggestions about improving access and layout will be quite welcome.

And so, I find myself following Simon’s sage advice: get a blog. I hope you enjoy it!