Preparing the castle display board

With Salute just over a week away, the castle team have been working on presentation. At a wargames convention, drawing the eyes of passing gamers is the first priority. This means spreading out the castle model to cover as much of our table as possible. Any game played on a small board runs the risk of looking like a ring of wargamers’ backs to anyone not playing. Given the relative sizes of our model and the game table, we also wanted to make sure that we didn’t leave large areas of unused table.

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To that end, we’ve been developing a system for displaying the different levels of the tower. This consists of a series of black-draped plinths to hold up the tower levels. Each plinth is a different height, giving viewers an indication of which level sits where. Our latest playtests have convinced us that the plinths are stable enough to stand up to play.

We’ve also added a set of new casualty markers to help with the reduced model units we’re using. These were made by Supreme Littleness Designs, who of course also made the castle model itself.

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With the display sorted and the scenario playtested, it’s time for the final Salute push. We’ve got shields to paint, bases to touch up, and the player-handout version of the scenario to finish and laminate. It’s going to be a lot to do in a short space of time, but from what we can tell that’s the traditional Salute experience. If you’re going to be there, come by and see us: we’re at game table GG10 and trade stand TG06!

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Guest post: bringing research to the table

In today’s guest post, Matthew Harris takes us behind the scenes to look at the origin of his upcoming article on Genoese forces in the Crusades.

My name is Matthew Harris, and I recently completed my undergraduate dissertation at the University of Edinburg, on Genoese Crusading Warfare, from the First to the Third Crusades. I was supervised by Dr Gianluca Raccagni, who turned out to be a fellow wargamer and military history enthusiast, and that’s really where my involvement with the History and Games Network began.

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Matthew’s Genoese force takes shape on the painting table.

I’ve been a wargamer for about a decade, being a regular member of school and university gaming groups and making Airfix models long before that. My dad still blames himself for that particular obsession (starting with a 1:72 scale Tiger Moth, that I now admit you did make Dad)! I started, rather unusually, with historical games — Napoleonic era British and the War of 1812 — as opposed to Warhammer, and things quickly snowballed. From very early on I connected the study of history with gaming, particularly miniature gaming. I found history much easier to visualise and explore through the medium, and though I never really thought of it as a study tool it certainly increased my engagement.

I joined the project to help tie in my research with more accurately portraying the crusades in gaming, working to build a database of scenarios involving the Genoese during the Crusades alongside my fourth-year dissertation. I also helped playtest the very successful Byblos castle project. I was delighted to have attended a gaming seminar with rules author and publisher Dan Mersey as part of the project, which was followed up by a games evening. I used Lion Rampant and my own and borrowed models to put on a participation game based on the Battle of Jaffa in the Third Crusade, where I was able to introduce the idea of gaming to a number of friends and teach them some history to boot!

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Infantry protect crossbowmen as the Genoese troops prepare for battle. 

Dan and Luca were highly encouraging of a study of the Genoese and their application in wargaming, and so they suggested I write an article on the Genoese and helped design some scenarios for an upcoming book on the Crusades in general. With Luca and Dan’s help I wrote an article on bringing the Genoese to the tabletop in Lion Rampant for publication in a popular wargaming magazine; I hope this will promote some knowledge and interest in a sadly little-known topic. I found the change from academic writing really fantastic: tailoring my research to a more general audience, and letting the historical material speak for itself. It was very pleasant to write something a little more informal and being allowed to inject some humour into the article certainly made a difference from my dissertation!

Being a gamer and modeller myself, during the writing of the dissertation, as both a by product and something relaxing to do I painted and modelled my own band of Genoese models in 28mm. I’ve always really enjoyed that visualisation, and I find gaming history really brings text, chronicles and archive material to life in a way you can’t otherwise get.

UK Games Expo and general update

Since Salute 2019, we’ve been working away on various aspects of the project. At present, there isn’t much we can tell you about them, since none are complete enough for us to show off. That means it’s been quiet around here. However, it isn’t all hush-hush.

For instance, we went to UK Games Expo in Birmingham!

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To give you some sense of the scale of Games Expo, this is a partial photo of one of the exhibit halls. There’s another large hall behind the camera, to say nothing of the open gaming areas, tournaments, living history display, bring-and-buy, and more.

We weren’t exhibiting at Games Expo, although we plan to be next year. Instead, we spent the time catching up with some of our partners and working on establishing some new partnerships. The rest of the time we spent looking at things in a little bit of a daze. The sheer variety of different games on show and the number of enthusiastic gamers testify to a thriving tabletop gaming community, but they can also be a little overwhelming.

Of course, unlike Salute, Games Expo isn’t dedicated to just one kind of gaming — it’s mainly a board games convention, but there were also plenty of wargame and RPG publishers present. The biggest wargaming presences were sci-fi and fantasy games, but there were definitely some historical manufacturers present, including Sarissa Precision and Bad Squiddo Games.

While we’re primarily focused on the crusades in miniature wargaming, it’s definitely true that there’s a lot of overlap between how different types of games use history, and it was interesting to see some of that at work in the different games on display.

With only one day at the show, it wasn’t possible to even scratch the surface of what goes on there. There were whole buildings we didn’t even get to visit! But we’ll be back next year — and hopefully then we’ll be able to show off some of the things we’ve been working on for the last few months.

Salute 2019

It’s taken us a week to recover from Salute 2019, but here are a few of the highlights of our visit!

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A Frankish crossbowman tries to clear the stairway of defenders.

It was great to be able to run our game for attendees. The scenario worked out well in practice, and the simple Lion Rampant rules made it easy to get started, even in our first game where none of the players were familiar with them.

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Things are about to turn ugly on the mezzanine.

We’ll be writing more about our scenario in future, but we’re interested to know how you feel about the premise. You can download a copy of our scenario display here. Take a look at it and let us know what you think. We’re particularly interested in a few questions:

  • Is the summary clear and easy to read?
  • Does the premise of the scenario give you a different perspective on the Crusades or make you think about the conflicts differently?

Let us know what you think either in the comments here or on the Facebook page! We know that the visual presentation is a bit hasty and improvised, so don’t worry about that: we’ll be updating it for future events!

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Attacked on the stairs, Aybeg’s ghazis flee into the hall — straight onto a row of spear points!

It was great to meet lots of gamers and history buffs. One of the things that really stood out for us was the number of students and academics we met!

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James gets a game underway.

One thing that attracted a lot of compliments was the arrangement of the castle levels, which made it easy to play in this otherwise challenging vertical space.

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The stairs turned into a bloody chokepoint in each game.

We also had a visit from Beasts of War! Check out their video:

Of course, our partners from Supreme Littleness Designs were there as well, selling their range of scenery and gaming aids as well as showing off some upcoming designs — watch this space for future announcements on what they’ve got coming up.

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Levon Hetumian and his retainers form a defensive cordon around the prisoners.

We also spent a lot of time at Salute talking to other companies and gaming groups with the aim of creating new partnerships and getting people involved in the project. It’s early days yet but we could have some exciting news for you in the days to come!

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What’s going on in there?

Once again, thank you to everyone who came out, played, gave feedback, and joined in the discussion about the castle project! We all came out of Salute exhausted, but now that we’ve had time for a break we’re ready to get to work on the next phases of the project.

The other crusaders

One of the most important points of Steve Tibble’s recent book The Crusader Armies was that the contribution of non-western Christians to the politics and warfare of the crusading period is typically overlooked. Contemporary writers tended to either minimise their importance or take them for granted, but that shouldn’t be the case for modern historians — or gamers — trying to imagine the era.

This meant that when we began designing our scenario for Salute, we wanted to make sure that Christians other than Franks were represented in the game. In the scenario, we decided to include some Armenian characters.

There are some great Armenian models on the market, including parts of the excellent Perry Miniatures Crusades line. We cheated a little, however, by mixing together elements of plastic models from Gripping Beast, Conquest, and Fireforge to create models that represent the combination of Arab, Byzantine, and European styles that we might find among the Armenian nobility.

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Now, these are approximations, and there are a few things that probably don’t quite work — the pteruges are a little early — but they achieve one of the most important goals of figures in a miniature wargame: they make the differences between forces visible to the players. That sometimes involves some exaggeration of those differences.

The rest of our Armenian team is going to consist of figures that would fit in with our Muslim forces, just without distinctively Islamic iconography. Again, it’s a little bit of a shorthand, but it works well to convey the fact that everyday dress throughout the region would have a lot of similarities.

With only two weeks to go before Salute, we’re tweaking and refining our scenario, simplifying some areas and expanding others. Don’t forget to come by and see us at gaming table GG10 and stand TG06!

Visit us at Salute 2019

Salute 2019 is right around the corner, and we’re getting ready to host a game there. The show is on April 6th at ExCel London; doors open at 10 AM. We’ll be running a Lion Rampant skirmish game set in the Byblos castle model at game table GG10 throughout the day; we’ll also be showing off the model and talking more about the project in general.

If you’d like to learn more about how gaming and historical research combine, or check out some other Supreme Littleness Designs products, just head across the aisle to stand TG06.

Salute map

At the moment, we’re busy getting everything ready, but we’re really looking forward to seeing some of you there!

Interior design in a crusader castle

As we mentioned in our earlier post, if we’re going to be focusing on a game inside the castle, we’ll need to think about how to decorate it. So far, the castle has had a fairly plain interior.

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The plain interior and some test furniture during a recent playtest. It’s all still work in progress, but we’re starting to get there.

Now we need to start making it more eye-catching for our games at Salute. This poses some interesting challenges. The truth is that we have very little information about what the interior of this space might have looked like. These structures have either been demolished or repurposed many times — like Byblos itself — and although there’s been some important research, they haven’t been subjected to the kind of intensive investigation that castles in western Europe have. Most writing on castles has focused on the strategic elements, with domestic spaces being secondary until relatively recently.

That doesn’t mean that we know absolutely nothing, though — we can engage in a little educated speculation. We know that the elites of the crusader states adopted a number of local fashions in terms of dress and lifestyle, so it’s not unreasonable to suppose that the same might be true for homes. Of course, our sources for those interiors are a little patchy as well, but it gives us a starting point.

Gameplay also matters in deciding how to lay out our castle interior. We want to have enough furniture to suggest the busy life of a medieval castle, but not so much that it’s difficult to set up or keeps getting knocked over when players move their models. Because difficult terrain is important in Lion Rampant — some units are better at moving over it or fighting in it than others — we’ve decided to group furniture into vignettes so that the edges of the zones are clearly defined. This will also simplify transport and setup. You can see the unpainted prototypes created by Supreme Littleness Designs in the photo above.

For the rest of the decoration, we’ve decided to decorate the walls with tapestries and also add some ornaments based on the heraldry of the Embriaco family, the Genoese house that controlled Byblos castle for most of the 12th and 13th centuries. This should add some of the colour and luxury that European elites of the middle ages were so fond of while still leaving it easy to move figures around the model.

Of course, that’s only for the upper floor — the hall where the castle’s noble residents would have lived their lives. On the lower floors, we’ll have much more utilitarian set dressing.

In our next post, we’ll be talking about creating models for Armenian or Syrian characters in the game. These local Christians played a vital role in the crusades, but there are far fewer good models available for them than for Arab, Turkish, or Frankish characters.

Happy new year and new plans!

Updates have been slow over the holidays, but we’re back at work on the Gaming a Crusader Castle project. We’ve got a show appearance coming up this April as we bring the keep to Salute 2019. It seems like April’s a long way away, but two months is no time at all in wargaming years.

With that in mind, we’re working away on getting ready for the big show. This means that we’re playtesting a new version of the battle in the keep.

We tried this scenario earlier using Outremer, but our most recent version is based on Lion Rampant, using the rules for reduced-model units that appear in the fantasy version, Dragon Rampant.

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It looks a little rough without the proper castle interior and whatever scenery we could scrounge up, but the finished product should impress. We were initially a little uncertain about how the keep interior would cope with the increased number of models, but our playtests have been promising so far.

We are going to have to make some changes to the rules to account for the smaller playing area — for instance, units in the Rampant games exert a 3-inch zone of control, including over friendly units. That’s not going to be feasible for an environment like this one, so we’ll have to reduce it. We might also want to alter some unit types to represent the fact that the surprise attack is catching some of the participants without their heavy armour. And we’ll need a more elegant way of tracking casualties than a die stuck next to the models. Still, we’re pretty happy with Lion Rampant as a basis for a fast skirmish. Given the short timeframe we’ll be working in at wargames shows, this seems like a strong choice.

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The next thing we’re working on is decorating the interior of the castle.

One of the great things about the Byblos castle model is its roomy interior. But if we want to use the inside of the castle to fight battles, we should use it to give some impression of what this type of high-status residence would look like. In our next post, we’ll be discussing some of the sources and the types of things you might expect to find in a building like this one.

 

Further Outremer playtesting

Over time, we’ve been refining the proposed scenario for an Outremer skirmish game using the Byblos castle prototype. In our last post, we talked about an early playtest in Cambridge. This revealed that the system was working well for us, but suggested that we might want to vary the force composition and deployment in the scenario.

The scenario sees four retinues of troops, led by an Arab nobleman, a Turkish commander, a Frankish knight and an Armenian noble, all trying to either keep or rescue a hostage. For the second run, we added a secondary objective: an heirloom that had belonged to the castle’s original Frankish owners, which the knight and his followers were trying to retrieve. The new Arab lord of the castle, concerned about his Turkish guests, had hidden his treasure, including this heirloom, somewhere in the castle.

At the beginning of the scenario, the Armenian noble and his retinue have entered the castle under false pretences. Their goal is to pretend to negotiate for the hostage’s release while secretly opening an access point to let the Franks in. This led to a few turns of tense gameplay as the Armenians tried to pick their moment and the castle’s defenders searched for the heirloom. Everyone suspected the Armenians were up to something, but to attack a guest would be dishonourable.

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The negotiations are looking tense.

That uncertainty didn’t last long, though: the Armenians let in their Frankish allies and the battle on the lower floor began in earnest. When the alarm sounded, the guards in the upper floor pounced, attacking the members of the Armenian delegation there. One managed to escape by climbing out of the large window and clambering down the wall to get to the window on the lower level. Because the wall is so thick, the lower window arch is large enough to shelter in, and that’s what this survivor did, taking cover from enemy arrows.

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“What’s taking them so long?” Frankish attackers creep up to the main entrance.

Meanwhile, the Frankish and Armenian raiders overcame the defenders on the ground floor and mezzanine and tried an assault on the stairs.

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Attackers flood into the ground floor.
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More try to make their way up the stairs.

It didn’t go so well.

The narrow stairway proved too easy for the defenders to hold; attackers fell one by one, leaving the stairs a carpet of bodies. Eventually we ruled that the area had to be treated as difficult ground, which made an assault even less likely. Eventually, the fight settled into a bloody stalemate: the attackers had control over the lower levels and were able to retrieve their heirloom, but they were unable to mount a successful attack on the upper floor, leaving the hostage firmly in the hands of the defenders.

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A familiar sight on the stairs.

What’s interesting about this is that it resembles an incident we’ve already mentioned from the works of historian William of Tyre: an assault on a castle in Gaza in 1170 that ended with the defenders holding out on the upper floor while the attackers controlled the ground floor. Although that meant the defenders were cut off from their water supply, the possibility of a relief force arriving meant that the attackers were forced to withdraw. This isn’t a foregone conclusion in this scenario — we have had previous playtests where the attackers were able to capture the upper floor  with heavily-armoured troops before the defenders could get organised — but it is a feature of the castle’s design. The narrow stairs and limited number of entrances were a result of both architectural and strategic necessity; in an emergency, a single choke point was easier to defend with a small number of troops.

Obviously, producing a result that has occurred in history is very gratifying, but there are still a few things that we can adjust about the scenario. We’re considering adding some more advantages to the attackers to balance things out a little, since at present it seems like the defenders have a positional advantage. We also want to create some kind of system for searching the castle and opening its access points to add a little tension to the opening moments.

In any one-shot wargame, players tend to be cavalier with the lives of their troops in ways that real commanders usually aren’t. One way we might try to reward a little more tactical caution would be to introduce an additional victory condition for being the player with the most surviving figures at the end of the game. These are the things we’re considering as we refine the scenario for the new year.

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