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Virtus 2016 – The Mark Fry Experience

Virtus 2016 Day 1I awoke with excitement and trepidation … it was the morning of Virtus’16 and as I loaded the car with my trusty army, rules book, supplies, medical supplements and passport, the excitement at visiting the ‘Theme Park formally known as Wales’ set my heart all of a flutter.I journeyed west towards the mountains – over the great river via Osgiliath Bridge – to enter this foreign land, now a mere shadow of its former glory, overwhelmed by the hand of doom and Brexit.

Cardiff extends its hospitality to our new author…….

The entry price to the theme park was steep, but was also ominous at £6.66*, the price of the Beast I noted with distaste (* it is actually £6.60 but as President Elect and Leader of the Capitalist World Donald Trump once said “what’s a small rounding error amongst business associates”!) and this feeling of dread was further compounded upon my arrival at the first hostelry on the other side of the river – Mordor Services. Here I was confronted by a truly shocking site, huge flocks of woolly headed, bloated, bleating creatures (shoppers in their onesies and Ugg-boots being herded by the coach-load on their way to the great retail slaughterhouse of Cribbs Causeway across the river) milling about aimlessly ordering McDonalds breakfasts and diabetes in a cup (large, double shot, salted caramel, gingerbread cookie, lattes with 4 extra sugars). In supreme contrast there strode amongst them, ignoring the plight of their fellow travellers, strange ethereal creatures, bearded males (always in pairs!), tall & thin as bean-poles, clad in brightly coloured skin-tight lycra with their eyes shaded. Elves I hear you exclaim with an excited tremble in your breath! No, don’t be daft, just health conscious English Guardian reading types; swiftly quaffing single expressos, whilst pouring over copies of Brecon mountain bike trail magazines and earnestly querying whether the bacon rolls were organically sourced and vegan.

I quickly bartered with the serving maid, grabbed my coffee-to-go and bacon butty, paid the extortionate price and exited rapidly. However, as I drove away, it made my question why it is that Man ends up looking and behaving like the animals they tend – the Welsh and sheep, the English and mad-cows and the Scots and porridge! The remainder of my journey was equally surreal – at one point the theme park took on a science-fiction aspect with an uncanny resemblance to the ‘The Deserted Quarter’ on Qo’noS (the Klingon home world – as if you didn’t all know that) from the Star Trek film ‘Into Darkness’, the similarity was most uncannily realistic and incredibly accurate.

Eventually I arrived at the venue for Virtus 2016 – Firestorm Games – the freezing heart of South Wales wargaming and there I was relieved to be greeted by a couple of the traditional theme park characters – Mike Baldwin and Colin Cavenagher. My joy at finally being at my journeys end must have been so obvious that they mistook it for pleasure at seeing them!


But if truth be told, my journey to Virtus’16 had actually started much earlier than Saturday 2nd December, when a week previously I had responded to a distress signal thrown up by Mr Baldwin to support him in checking the multitude of army lists that were flooding his Inbox and wreaking havoc with his sanity. It was as I worked feverishly to cut the wheat from the chaff and correct the Umpires own list twice and enter into a lengthy written correspondence, by carrier pigeon, with another competitor about the fact that the Burmese had not invented Elephants before 1043 AD (I could do a whole load of “Elephant in the room” jokes at this point, but life is far too short!) Mike made a plea to me to change my own list.

Now having seen the ‘Great Don’ use this list last year, I had selected it myself on the basis that it had pretty figures and was an all-time well known killer army. It was of course the Nikephorian Byzantine, but as about half of the rest of the competition field had also selected it, I agreed with Mike to sacrifice my certain victory for the good of the event and dusted off an old trial list – my Papal Communal Italian, but with Nikephorian Byzantine allies (army list 181) just to show no weakness you understand. This list is almost as much fun as you can have with HC Elite Impact and still be legal pre-1042 AD, but having never played with it previously I thought Virtus’16 would be just the right place to test it in the fiery heat of combat.

So to battle ….

My first game was against an ex-work colleague Andy Gilbert with his later Carthaginian army – which seemed to include an awful lot of MF swordsmen impact and some rather flighty elite medium and heavy cavalry.

As I distracted Andy with jocular reminiscences of our past career together my Communal spearmen slowly took apart his Gauls and Spaniards (totally against the odds) and my Byzantine HC toughed up his regular infantry in his centre (even more against the odds) … all this whilst my Papal knights (‘gastaldii’ or remnant Lombard aristocrats and feudal southern Italian nobles) were led a merry dance by the prancing Carthaginian medium and heavy cavalry. In the end my dice luck was good and Andy’s was atrocious, and my Pope, Incandescent XXIII, praised the Lord as I broke the heathen Carthaginians and Hannibal was sent packing back over the Alps; wishing he’d invested in that single mediocre Elephant after all. So game 1 for my Papal Italians resulted in a victory, to my great surprise.


After a hearty lunch of lembas bread and illegally imported orange juice (there are very strict penalties for importing ‘health foods’ into Wales apparently) I faced the serious threat of Dave Alan’s Pyrrhic army. This now begs the question, had Colin done the draw based upon geography rather than chronology? The thought had crossed my mind … crafty devil, so at some point later in the weekend I’d probably have to end up winkling Don’s dug-in German Fallschirmjäger out of Monte Casino if I wasn’t careful!

Dave is a tough adversary … known for his cunning plans of fielding armies that nobody in their right mind would dream of fielding themselves at first glance and then giving you a jolly good hiding with them. So the game kicked off at a brisk canter with Dave using historical text-book Pyrrhic deployment (see Battle of Asculum 279 BC Pyrrhus v Republican Romans) with his Elephants and Italian allies hiding in plantations on his left flank, his mighty Hellenistic phalanx in the centre and his cavalry out on his right wing. The Pyrrhic elephants were in ambush in the plantation (now don’t get me on about trees and howdahs and the height of ancient fruit trees & elephants … that’s one for another post or an entire SoA article) … but they soon rushed forward into view, encouraged by the sight of my poor weak Italian Communal Heavy Foot Spearmen. Again, the combo of Jumbos and MF swordsmen – some with impact, and clouds of LF javelins, should have made mince-meat of those soft Italian city-dwellers … but fate had other plans in store!

For my own part I was totally traumatised in my first move, as on my own left flank my Byzantine Allies had suddenly remembered that they were Orthodox Christians and this was a Papal Christian army!!! So the great East-West schism of 1054 AD (the event that precipitated the final separation between the Eastern Christian churches led by the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius and the Western Church led by Pope Leo IX – dear reader) happened in our game but 12 year earlier than expected!

In other words I threw a D:1 on my reliability dice, and my brave trusty Byzantine ally was fervently doing nothing! In fact, this was to be the big story of the game, as for the first 8 turns of play the Greeks sat still, twiddled their thumbs, drinking retsina, smashing plates and complaining bitterly about the Euro; which left me facing most of Dave’s army with just two thirds of mine! Despite my commander, Pope Incontinence XXV, sending over written pleas, bribes, spare command PIPS and even threats of expulsion from the euro-zone – the Byzantine Commander was having none of it. He’d sent a message back to Constantinople asking for clarification from the Orthodox pontiff. So as I stared almost certain disaster in the face, hope came to me from an unexpected direction …

That direction was my Communal Italian Spearmen who in an unexpected turn of events toughed up both of Dave’s elite elephants and their supporting MF swordsmen and then with the help of the Italian noble HC gave the poor beleaguered Tarantine mediocre pikemen on the far flank a thoroughly good thrashing as well. All of which saw poor Dave pulling out his beard and muttering something about Pyrrhic victories. But where were the Epirote elite heavy cavalry and those veteran pikemen – I hear you ask? Well exactly. The positioning of the reluctant Byzantine corp had actually played into my favour as Dave could not manoeuvre his centre or right flank to support his crumbling left without triggering my Byzantines into action and exposing his flank to them … so fate had joked with both of us.


But in game turn 9 the Byzantine commander got a text from his Patriarch stating that he was OK to support the Pope (for now) and the entire Byzantine command swung into action. By that time some careful manoeuvring had the Pyrrhic phalanx poised to engage the victorious remnants of the Italian Communal spearmen and so the Epirote HC took on the Byzantine Kavallarioi to buy the pikes time to finish them off and also reach the Papal camp. But Pyrrhus’ luck had well and truly run out and as the casualties mounted from fresh combats between the Byzantines and Epirote Companions and the Communal Spearmen and Papal HC fought bravely on against the phalanx, Dave’s army broke.


The whole game had been so tense that I’d failed to take any photos – so I include this single shameful shot below of the stationary Byzantines, taken on the Papal cell-phone, to be used in evidence for a reduced payment to the Emperor for services failing to be delivered! NB: this was actually from another game but you’ll get the idea … “pretty & useless” were the words that were uttered by the Papal commander.So to my utter surprise I had secured two victories under my belt with my Papal army and exhausted I made my way back home to Bristol for a much earned rest … what would tomorrow bring … but tomorrow was another day.

(to be continued)

Find out next time if Mark’s dreams are realised! Despertaferres is indeed honoured to have such a talent on our pages….A brief glimpse into  Mark’s dream👯



  1. I know just what Mark means about facing the Osgiliath Bridge for Virtus 16 was the third weekend in a row I had to enter the rainy Princedom and pay the toll! Rumour has it that the cost is to be slashed in half in 2017 so fingers crossed!

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  2. Good write up of a great competition. The big question for me though, is what is next year’s theme going to be? I heard rumour, from a reliable source, that it was going to be ” Armies of the Americas” 😎😎😎😎

    Liked by 1 person

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