As a young Asterix fan (many moons ago!), and then a little later prize-winner in Ancient History at my Sixth-Form College, I'm surprised, looking back, that I never felt more attracted to wargaming Ancients. I do recall drawing sheets of Roman shield designs, under the influence of Goscinny & Uderzo, and later on getting a book about the era of Alexander the Great from the local library. My memory suggests this book was part history and part wargaming stuff: anyone have any ideas what it might've been?
'Any other charges to declare?' Bob placidly announces, rather than asks, a bit like a customs inspector who knows you're a drug mule. Attempting to do what Gilder did so successfully in the Waterloo episode, Bob O'Brien flies in the face of historical precedent, by going for the jugular.
Woodward gleefully notes 'That's shaken Steve... Bob's turning his Goths straight into the cream of his Roman infantry.' Some of O'Brien's cavalry then go in for a spot of the 'Cantabrian Circle' dance, a manoeuvre which Woodward explains (I won't! If you don't know what it is - and I didn't - you can look it up here), concluding 'That's pretty sophisticated stuff for alleged barbarians'.
Watching the players doing the maths on their archery or melées is an odd sight on TV! After what appears on screen as about 10 or 15 mins of play - which, as the Battle article on the series notes, will have taken many hours, perhaps even days, to film - there's the standard eye-candy interlude of battlefield footage, with music and sound effects, before the game resumes. This is a formula repeated across all six episodes. In these interludes camera movement, including zooms and focal changes, etc., provide the motion.
I think certain facets of the game - of which the dice throwing and rule consulting form a part - come up against something rather troublesome for TV wargaming, namely the gap between how figure-collectors' and wargamers' imaginations are worked upon by the combination of dice, rules, static figures and terrain, and the bald facts of what is actually there before the eyes. Not something easy to capture on film! Still, the terrain and figures - which I believe are more from the Gilder collections - are fabulous, if undoubtedly also, as one blogger puts it, 'unfashionably shiny'.
After the filmic interlude, we return to the map, to check on the battles progress, with Woodward noting that, after melées, morale must be tested, and that 'It is morale that wins battles'. Then the players approach the table for part two.
The Châlons episode finishes with Woodward saying 'I hope you'll be with us next week, somewhere in France in 1944.' The ability to project oneself imaginatively into an era, which this closing statement assumes is taken for granted, is also the same magic ingredient that bridges the gap, sometimes made more glaringly obvious under the studio lights, whereby static figures and terrain can animate the imagination.
Sadly the France 1944 episode, notable for being the only wargame scenario in the series not based on an historical engagement, is one of the two that may have been irretrievably lost.