22 Oct 2013

Frigidus on a gaming table?

Now, I've decided to ditch the paragraph on pros and cons of different scales (it is a personal decision after all). Lately, I'm checking up 10 and 6mm miniatures for possibilities of gaming in this scale. Well, mainly 6mm as the idea is related to previous posts, so gaming late Roman battles. And Baccus does a great range for that period :P. Either imaginary battle of valiant Roman legions, defending the way to Italy on walls of Claustra or the "glorious" battle of Frigidus itself. The latter would be an ace choice as I'm sure chaps at my club would be interested to present where club presents - it is something that has happened here so people might feel a bit more connected to it. Now, ancients are played here in 28mm, which I don't like too much. I love 28mm for skirmish, but if we assume ancient battles were fought with 20,000+ warriors on each side (as a side note: the armies of antiquity were supposed to be huge, but the calculations make us doubt it, so perhaps there wasn't any decline in size of medieval armies, but the accounts got more correct), the 100+ (and thats huge already) 28mm miniatures really don't give you the feel. You end up with historically (in)correct Warhammer. And that's not what I fancy.  While even 6mm wouldn't let you match the numbers (well it wouldn't be practical, that's for sure), having literally thousand of miniatures ough to look impressive.

Now, this could work for moderns, but I can't imagine it look anything less than spectacular when done to represent any army from the times of close order battle formations. The painting is probably made differently from the 28mm, but that's not necessarily the bad thing.

So, if I share some ideas (I promise I will try to actually paint something for my next post) about how I'd do that. Also, keep in mind I currently own a line of 6mm miniatures (as in 4-5 on a sprue, got them at Salute for taking a pic! :P), so I have idea what I'm talking about! :P

I've since returned the book, but I did took some notes.

If we start with the battlefied. I've shown you the photo of the valley and obviously there is no sense modeling a huge bowl to play in. What I'd do is just add some hills or triangular slopes (the 90 degree angle being at board's edge) to one of the edges - where Eastern army would come from...perhaps not even that, as they rushed the ad-hoc palisades of Western army on the valley "bottom". Prominent feature would be the little Zemono hill in the valley, river and Castra, stone fort near-by.  If anyone here took a good look of the photo, the river is located BEHIND the Western army. Now, this makes absolutely no tactical sense, but one. If, for some sick reason, Arbogast, western commander would want to let his army know there is no retreat. Given the "fact" the river ran red, and that you'd use it as a natural barrier, every sane commander would put his army right behind the river. Now, in authors reconstrution, attackers passing the river are not mentioned.  The first position would also only make sense if it would be "leaning" on Castra...why on earth wouldn't he use at least that fortified fortification, if he didn't use the claustra walls? 

So, what I'd do is put river on one flank (having no real tactical value for game as game area is blocked by board edges anyways...except perhaps the marshy area around the river, limiting Eastern's army movement) and a little stone fort on the other - this one having an impact of the game as obviously stone walls are harder to breach then wooden palisades.  Author of the book mentions that Zemono hill could be the command post location, as it was a bit risen, but he also mentions that Eastern archers were on higher ground, perhaps they were situated on that hill?
So, by now, we got a board, flanked with stone fort and marshy river on each side. In between, Western army, entrenched behind the palisades. In front, little zemono hill, great place for Eastern horse archers to spray some arrows. 

The only thing that makes me doubt alternative location of the Western army is the way the wind blows (it blows in the exact way the arrow that represents Eastern army's approach is pointing).

So, the other idea for a board is swampy area, with river dividing board by halves and Western army located right beyond it. Tactically this makes the most sense to me (let's assume Castra is abandoned or however unfit for defence)...but it has to seriously kill the ability to make a game fair. That can, however, be negated by the use of win (smaller range for one side and larger for the other). Thus, in a way, that could actually be even better!

None of those supports the idea that Western army would hold control of the Zemono hill, which is also bugging me. Plus, by holding the hill, they held more of the valley, giving Eastern army even less space to fully develop their battle line. I don't really feel like drawing anymore, but perhaps we'd give Western army the hill and still put river just on the edge of the board, for the feel of it. Those decisions! It might also be, that Eastern army took detour and didn't drop down where we think they did, but they came from the Castra side (we don't know where Roman road led and they certainly didn't walk through those hills with all their carts. Road dropping down in valley from their expected direction is full of turns and really annoying to drive on, so it is possible they just walked on the local hills ridges and then dropped down into the valley a bit further away. This would  allow for Western army to have control of the Zemono hill, be flanked by river and steep hills and the Castra would be straight ahead of them, perhaps too far to be of any use to the attackers?

Well, we will probably never know and I really hate that. I'd need to find somebody who could predict where the river ran at that time. Completely unrelated, but I better write an article about that, career in something like that would be ace! :P

Enough with the blabber that doesn't really matter at this point, on to the armies. I think I've mentioned already that I don't have the book with me any more, but I took some notes.

Roman army in that time was vastly supported by foreign mercenaries. For that particular battle, both armies probably had more than 100,000 warriors each (so, more like 10-20,000 by my rough estimate). Considering the proximity of Ad Pirum to Frigidus, a small part of Eastern army would be there to fight, while vast majority would be waiting for their turn to leave the camp! Eastern roman army might have had a bit of numerical advantage.

Eastern army was supported by Alans, Huns and Goths (at least). According to the book it had: Gothic cavalry and infantry (remember, the first day Goths started the attack and many fell, which was beneficial to Rome as a whole), Roman light cavalry with spears and bows, Clibanarii (heavy cavalry), Palatini (ceasar's guard), line infantry of spearmen, slingers, archers etc, war hounds, balistae and onagers. It also mentions allies cavalry, spearmen, archers, slingers and even camel riders.
So, in effect, Eastern Roman army would be a magnificent conglomerate of "a little bit of everything". It means, the rules used to play the battle should allow for easy control of multiple units - personally, I think all gothic infantry and cavalry could be presented by 1 unit each. Then 1 unit of legionares and one, small unit of elite palatini. Thats 3 infantry units, so perhaps rather 2 legionares, making it 4 melee units. 1 archers unit to complement them. I suppose I could add slingers to last ranks of melee units, just to give it a feel - troops in behind wouldn't want to stand idle and I saw a documentary stating every roman soldier carried a sling. For cavalry, at least one units of heavy clibanarii, a unit of roman light cavalry (so, with gothic making it 2 of them) an one unit of horse archers. I got no idea what weapons I'd give the camel raiders, but probably bows...it makes more sense to me for some reason.  Lastly, a unit of onagers or balistae, if nothing else, just to sit there and look nice.

Western army was supported by Franks. The book doesn't give much idea of how that army might have looked like, it had some cavalry, Franks probably had their axes with them and it was mostly infantry force, as it didn't really had much to do with the nomad peoples coming in from the east, or Persia and similar peoples from the other east.

So, in game, you'd essentially have really mobile, Eastern army, fighting on a board with some marshes (slows movement or whatever), fighting against less mobile army with limited cavalry, but defended with some sort of palisades (and palisades are a bit if...perhaps they didn't have enough time to fully prepare defensive positions?) To make things a bit more realistic, Eastern army would have to wait for reinforcements, but once whole army would be on board (to represent 2nd day), the wind would give them that extra edge. Also meaning, Western army has to be played by someone accustomed to losing...you think you'll be visiting mainland Europe in next september Clint? :P

Well, that's a bit of a long post with no real conclusion, but feel free to post your ideas if that kind of things interest you or if you perhaps know any suitable rules set. Personally, I was thinking about Hail Caesar, but I think I'd way prefer the simple mechanics to anything too complicated as I'd really want to make the armies as diverse as possible.

Thanks for taking time to read another of my long posts,


  1. Well you have been doing some thinking. Look forward to seeing this take shape what size table are you thinking of?

    1. Ah, just thinking so far. If there will be a chance, I'll buy some packs and start painting the armies. I figured I should buy enough goths (I'll use them as franks, too), to make romans vs goths games possible, too. As in, put all the romans together and goths on the other side :P

      I have no idea, but 4x6 feet should probably be best. It was a head on battle, after all.

  2. I imagine you'd only want to deploy behind the river if you were expecting to be attacked, or possibly if you hoped to avoid or delay battle altogether. Either way, it's a very defensive posture and gives little opportunity to control the flow of events.

    1. That's a great point! Especially now that you've reminded me that Western army had sent a portion of their troops to block the Eastern's army escape, so they probably didn't wanted to be all that defensive, if they were to pursue the enemy.

  3. I actually did laugh out loud. No I don't think I can make that game. (sorry).

    There are lots of things to decide, like which rules and how many figures on a base and how many bases in a unit and all those sorts of things but it could be a spectacular looking game. You can of course use any rules, just put more figures on the same size base.

    I do like small scale figures they do make the army look bigger as they alter the perspective.

    I do like the way you are thinking and I look forward to you progressing this along some more. Best of luck mate.

    1. Ah, looks like I'm next in line then! :D

      That was my point, too. I guess I could use a 28mm rule set and just cramp as many figures as I can on 25mm bases..or well, 50mm, so it isn't too small now. I hate moving trays :D

      Yes, I suppose the smaller scale simply shows different perspective. Then again, 28mm is a great scale to game in if you'd prefer to show off the cool detailed models. But this loses its sense when people play with undercoated models :P

  4. I like the way you're thinking of the battle from both a historic and a wargame viewpoint. An interesting way to to decide on the site would be to let the layers play it out on on map before the two armies come to grips.

    6mm armies are a great way of showing large armies too, I've used Irregular Miniatures for all my forays into 6mm as they're cheap and the guys at Irregular are very helpful and do great deals.

    1. Yeah, playtesting is the least of the problems, but that is all still very far away.

      So you would recommend them? I've only had a look at Baccus, because Irregular miniatures seem kinda unprofessional with their page. Their range is enormous and would fit in well, plus seems to have a very cheap discounted army deals.

      I did read they're sculpts are not to everyone's taste...do you like them?

    2. I like them mostly because of cost and their heads don't overwhelm the figures, but they're acceptable enough to me. the detail is sufficient and is there to be found, but hey, they're 6mm ffs !
      Heroics and Ros think probably make the best 5mm-6mm figures ever and they have a huge range (not ancients though). Their biggest flaw imo is that infantry come in strips as files rather than ranks.

    3. Hmm, cheers for the tip then, once I'm ready to order something I'll check them all out again and decide.

      Not much one can expect from 6mm, indeed. As long as they're proportioned all right and resemble humans (well, and horses), it should be fine. 300 figures for 12 pounds sounds amazingly cheap :D

    4. I used 6mm irregulars for my Franco-Prussian forces and 300 figures in 6 figure strips; at 3 strips to the base and two bases to the battalion it's only the equivalent of 6 battalion size units! (I have a Prussian Corps at that scale).

    5. Oh, now that you've mentioned it that way, this does seem a bit small. :P

      You got any photos to share? :D