The Welsh Eumenes Triumphs At Paraetacene

After a couple of false starts we managed to get our good friend Gareth Lane up for a refight of the Battle of Paraetacene 317BC between Eumenes representing the house of Alexander and Antigonus Monophthalmus rebel and empire builder.

The battle is a fairly big one in the annals of the Successors, around 40,000 men per side, and a big one for the collection, which we just about were able to realistically represent.

Historically it was a kind of a draw with both sides claiming victory by the standards of the day. In a purely numbers sense Eumenes was the more successful, inflicting losses of around 8,000 in dead and wounded as compared to 1.500 on his own side. The protagonists at the time and later chroniclers argued the toss about who camped on the battlefield first etc, something that as gamers we can never recreate.

Gareth opted to be Eumenes and as the troops were already laid out more or less historically all that was left to do was for me to run Gareth through the nuances of the rules and then have at it. This may sound a bit glib but inside I was somewhat nervous as this was the first time someone outside of the ‘inner circle’ 😅 had played the rules and I didn’t want them to have a crap time.

The armies were as follows:

Eumenes deployed himself on the right wing to start the battle where Peucestas commanded 2 x veteran lancer Xystophoroi, 1 x Cappadocian satrap cavalry, a unit of psiloi covering the front and a couple of elephants, opposing him was Peithon commanding 2 x Tarrentine skirmish cavalry and 3 x satrap cavalry. Antigonus, along with his son Demetrius, personally commanded his right wing of 3 x veteran lancer Xystophoroi facing off to Asander commanding 1 x Tarrentine skirmishers, 1 x Greek skirmish cavalry, a unit of psiloi and 2 x Cappadocians.

The Eumenid infantry centre was split between on the right the Hypaspists, the Silver Shields, and two bodies of Macedonian pike screened by 3 x psiloi and two elephants all under Antigines and on the left 2 x mercenary hoplite units, and a unit of mercenary peltasts screened by 2 x psiloi and two elephants all under Teutamus. Opposing them, again split between right and left, was Medius commanding the right phalanx consisting of 5 blocks of pike, 1 veteran, 2 normal and 2 levy screened by 3 x psiloi and two elephants and Menander commanding 2 x mercenary hoplites and 2 x mercenary peltasts screened by 2 x psiloi and two elephants.

Coffee consumed we set to and the opening phases mirrored the historical prototype. On the Eumenid right, Peucestas surged forward and although delayed by the harassing tactics of Peithon saw off all the opposition and by games end had captured Peithon and dominated his side of the table. On the Antigonid right, Antigonus took some losses from the opposing skirmishing cavalry and infantry but ultimately routed the Cappadocians and by games end was pursuing them in the direction of the Eumenid camp. On both cavalry wings all 4 commanders were committed to actively leading individual units in order to make progress and so risked death or capture.

In the infantry centre the opening phases were taken up with the psiloi exchange shots and elephants making a mess of things 😂 Overall, the Antigonids had the better of it but eventually the psiloi had been cleared to the rear and despite the fun of elephants charging each other and mauling themselves to death it was soon time for the main event.

When it came to the nitty gritty the gods favoured Eumenes. On the strong Eumenid right the Hypaspists did nothing, being blocked by one of their own elephants being locked in a duel to the death with an opposing elephant, but the Silver Shields proved their worth and smashed the peltasts to their front and had carved a hole in this sector of the battlefield by games end.

On the Antigonid right their own veterans performed equally well and ripped through the peltasts of Teutamus’ command but this was to be the only clear Antigonid infantry victory.

It was in the centre proper that the decision was made. The two pike under Antigines were fortunate in facing off to the Antigonid levy and although there was a bit of back and forth first one levy broke and then the other, already in a mess from fighting off an elephant, broke when charged. Further along, one of Teutamus’ hoplite units held as it gave ground to the opposing pike but then a rampaging elephant hit the flank of it’s opponent and they recovered enough to send the opposing pike backwards who then failed a morale test and broke. There was now a significant hole in the Antigonid centre and with night drawing in (Gareth had a drive home to make 😞 ) we agreed that Eumenes was victorious.

It can’t be a Successors game without an elephant story or two. Of the ten elephants involved (scale wise each is a squadron of about 8) five panicked upon the death of their mahout and ran about the battlefield to a lesser or greater degree; 1 on the Eumenid right ran about on the empty plain causing minor annoyance, 2 ran into their own troops (1 each), disrupting the advance and eventually being killed off and the 2 others ran into fellow elephants and fought long drawn out melees; 3 other elephants died in separate fights or from missile fire.

As a recreation of the battle the game was pretty successful. Both sides’ right wing cavalry put their opponents to flight and by the end of our fight Antigonus was in the more advantageous position with the Eumenid infantry being far off and pushing forward. In the centre however the Eumenids definitely had the better of it and may have surpassed their historical prototypes. All in all then a success.

From a rules perspective this was really pleasing; Gareth is an experienced player and cut his teeth on ancients back in the days of Warhammer Ancients Battles so his take was important. His analysis was that the rules were fairly intuitive, easy to pick up, flowed well and nothing screamed out as a problem which was good to hear. For me, I think they are done now, a couple of clarifications in the fine print and I’m going to call it ‘mission accomplished’ which is a good feeling 😃

So, game over, fun had, satisfaction obtained. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and until next time, keep well.

The Successors Project: Part Five

“Are we there yet?” And I think the answer to that question is yes or certainly yes enough to be able to field full armies representing the various forces of the Diadochi to a set of rules that gives us what we want.

This week we took our time to play the rules complete, ie, choose two armies from the lists to the proposed minimum points value, choose the terrain from the listed items, work out scouting and deploy for battle. The two armies were Ptolemaic Successor (under Ptolemy I)and Eastern Satrapal (under Peithon), they didn’t met historically but certainly could have. The points gave the Ptolemaic a strong infantry core of, 1 x Agema pike, 3 x Pezhetairoi pike & 2 x mercenary Hoplites covered by Cretan archers, Rhodian slingers and Greek javelinmen; the cavalry wings were made up of 3 x Kleruchoi horse on the left and 2 x Hetairoi on the right. The Satrapal force was much more varied; their infantry centre was, 2 x Pantodapoi pike, 2 x Macedonian pike, 1 x Thracian peltasts & 2 x mercenary Hoplites covered by Cretan archers and Greek slingers & javelinmen all supported by 2 x elephants; the left wing horse comprised 1 x satrapal horse supported by 2 x horse archers and the right comprised 2 x satrapal horse, 1 x Xystophoroi and 1 x light horse javelineers.

A blow by blow account isn’t required here but how well the game reflected what we know of Successor’s battles is worth a look.

Traditionally the left wing cavalry would be lighter and would have a holding role while the right wing would be the stronger strike cavalry; the centre would be the infantry and here would be where the battle would be decided. On the face of it that was what we had although it didn’t quite develop that way….

The opening action was obviously on the cavalry wings – they moved twice as fast 😄 On the Ptolemaic right the strong strike force thing just didn’t work, the elephant was a worry, the enemy horse archers were annoying and the satrapal horse got the drop on one of them and it all went to hell in a hand cart when the commander got himself killed in a melee – lesson, don’t add your leader to a small unit, the percentage chance of dying is rather high 😭 On the Satrapal right their strike force was evenly matched against the Kleruchoi but eventually prevailed and by the end of the game were pursuing the enemy to their camp.

Rules note; as a generalisation, elite cavalry, the Companions in all their various descriptions, are 6 figure units and the rest either 8 or 10 and no it’s not too small, go away and research just how many cavalry as a whole there were (it’s not a lot) and how many of them were Companions. For scale purposes 1 cavalry figure = 128 men, so a base of two figures is a squadron.

While all the cavalry shenanigans was going on the phalanx’s ground their way across the table with their respective skirmishers potting away at each other – the satrapal skirmishers had the best of it and drove off their opposite numbers. This worked as we wanted, a few casualties then the psiloi end up behind the pikes where they can protect the rear from any nasty cavalry that come sniffing around 😀

The main event soon followed and we were into the clash of pikes. From a rules perspective it’s all down to who gets the initiative and uses it well, as experience has shown that he who gets stuck in first will just keep on rolling, barring a stroke of real bad luck. In this clash the Ptolemaics got the initiative and ordered all six units in, huzzah! Err, no. Three units refused to charge 😪 and so when the initiative moved to the enemy there was a real sense of tension as they tried to rescue the moment but two of them refused to charge! and so instead of the nice neat straight line, so beloved by wargamers, we had a more staggered look as different merarchia advanced and gave ground independently of each other, which was rather the effect I was after.

Ultimately the Ptolemaics got their act together and superior class saw them through the initial wobble and crushed the enemy centre – both hoplite units and two of the pike units routed and Peithon was killed whilst steadying one of the pike units. In the units that routed the highest loss was at 30% and the lowest around 12%. Much like the real thing this was the end; one side had lost the bulk of its infantry and with the army general dead had no mechanism by which they could rally them until they reached the camp where they would have a single shot at redemption. On the subject of camps, neither side had lost control of theirs, the Ptolemaic camp was the more at risk due to the victorious cavalry heading its way (a Eumenes moment in the making) but it did have two cavalry units about to rally there (or not) but that was all a bit ‘if, but or maybe’, the reality was that some 13,000 men (scale wise) from the satrap army were leaving the field.

But what of those troop types not mentioned so far? Well the elephants were a worry for a while but not for long, the left wing elephant panicked when it’s mahout died (actually it’s a squadron but as a mechanism it works 🤨) and ended up in the way of the Agema pike who charged into it and finished it, the right wing elephant provided able support to the cavalry wing (and managed to stay out of ‘scaring the children’ range) but was ranged in on by the Cretans who shot it down. The Thracians did nothing, spending most of their time lurking behind the right wing elephant.

Once we were done we had a detailed discussion about how the game had played and where we thought we were in the project. First off, the rules; they play well, enough detail to make you think about what you are doing but swift mechanisms to resolve the contest of arms, the overall look seems right and the resolution feels right; we did have a couple of ‘oh shit this isn’t going to work’ moments, such as the failure to charge in the centre but in fact this resolved perfectly well and added a bit of suspense to the game. Secondly, the collection; it’s been quite a journey, it’s taken longer than we thought and even using the plastic figures it’s still been quite expensive which has caused a bit of tension, we’ve side tracked a couple of times – the Galatians are an obvious example, but taking a step back and taking a look at the whole we’ve got a collection to be proud of 🥰 and we agreed that essentially it’s done.

What next? A display game seems the next logical step so our Partizan entry next year will be a Successors refight, either Paraitakene or Gabiene, we reckon we could put on a reasonable version of either with what we’ve got, maybe a few more elephants would be nice 😏

Anyway, thank you for reading along as we’ve developed the project, all polite and useful comments gratefully received, in the meantime, enjoy your gaming, however you do it.

The Successors Project: Part Four

So, we finally got to game the rules with real figures and a live opponent; just me and Dave to start, a group game will need us two to know what we’re talking about and to have fully fleshed armies.

At the moment we don’t have sufficient pike formations for a traditional battle, in fact we only have one, but we do have sufficient figures for something close enough to see what it looks and feels like.

Using the army lists I was able to create a Eumenid and Antigonid force at about 70% of my proposed typical army points value, so if the pikes and some more generals were available it looks like it might work.

Both armies had two blocks of mercenary hoplites each, four units of cavalry each, one of which was Xystophoroi and the others satrap units; the Antigonids had the one unit of pike, three elephants and sundry skirmishers, the Eumenids had only two elephants, three units of peltasts and also sundry skirmishers. Both sides had an Army General and two Commanders.

The Eumenids deployed with all their cavalry on the right wing under one of the commanders, satrap cavalry to the front and Xystophoroi behind, the hoplites were in the centre under the General covered by the skirmishers with the elephants on their left linking with the peltasts under the other commander.

The Antigonids deployed with the pikes in the centre, flanked either side by the hoplites and covered by the skirmishers, all commanded by the General, two elephants protected the right flank of the infantry block and one the left. On either flank were the cavalry, two units per command under a commander each, with the right wing being the stronger, quality wise, as it contained the Xystophoroi.

As it was our first game we were a bit slow; I thought I knew my own rules and I didn’t 🤣, Dave obviously hadn’t played at all and despite me going through the concepts at the beginning and having QRef sheets to hand we still managed to lapse into the techniques of other sets we play which was a bit of a distraction to say the least 😂🤣

The arc of the action isn’t as important as is what we learnt but here it is.

On the Eumenid right the weight of horse didn’t prove as decisive as was hoped for. One unit of Cappadocian cavalry got stuck into the opposing Median horse and eventually routed it and pursued toward the Antigonid camp. The other failed to charge (although so did it’s opponent) which rather created a road block to the other two units which wasn’t resolved until late into the battle. Deployment issues apart, one problem that did surface was that because ‘attack cavalry’ have to go their full distance you get the problem of them getting so close to each other that the eventual ‘charge’ isn’t really a charge but more of a trot and so no visual ‘crash of horse’. I think I know how to fix this, just need to have a bit of a play on my own. The actual melee’s (yes the other unit did finally get stuck in 😄) worked fairly well, low casualty rates and results more to do with morale failure than dead men; both sides threw in their commanders on this flank which led to some tense moments of die rolling for risks to the leaders and in fact the Antigonid commander bit the dust and that was the end of that wing.

On the Antigonid right wing their cavalry did a lot better (and so they should have!) against the peltasts, pretty soon one of the peltasts was in rout and the other in retreat, which turned into a rout when the pursuing cavalry caught up with them. The peltasts did manage to hang on for a bit and even used the reinforcement rule to make one melee last just a little bit longer, but finally that flank was on it’s way to the camp. From a rules perspective this worked well and the problem of cavalry not getting their charge bonus didn’t come up as the infantry couldn’t close the distance down before the cavalry charged.

The infantry took some time to get at each other finally meeting as their respective left flanks were collapsing although the slow speed of their advance did mean that the skirmishers could have some effect, shooting at each other and the respective elephants. This was all good, typically in ancient battles the flank cavalry are over and done prior to the decisive blow in the centre and in our encounter the cavalry were either busy pursuing or vainly trying to rally.

How well elephants would perform was a worry when I was writing and play testing the rules solo and so I was keen to see how we got on here. Overall I was pretty pleased; on the Antigonid left the single elephant acted as a disordering deterrent long enough for the left hoplites to turn and face and the javelin skirmishers to screen them; this elephant could in fact have charged and caused a bit of a mess but the afore mentioned distraction of lapsing into another rule set sequence briefly meant that the opportunity was lost 😥. On the Antigonid right the fun I wanted from the elephants paid off in full; both sides had an elephant go into panic due to the loss of the mahout from shooting, the Eumenid one careered about randomly as per the rules but the Antigonid one ran straight into it’s own hoplites who then spent the rest of the game trying to kill it – just what I wanted 😀. The other two elephants ended up in a melee when the Eumenid one charged home and they were still fighting when we called time.

Once the main infantry got stuck in we were at the end of our time but we did manage to see how well (or not) and infantry fight would go. The Antigonid phalanx charged home on the opposing mercenary hoplites who stood to receive but in two phases of melee they were undone and broke for the camp. This illustrated the advantage of impetus and ranks and from a rules perspective showed, more so than the cavalry, the advantage of gaining the initiative in the turn. If the hoplites had the initiative they could have stymied the advance of the phalanx and although the odds would be against them in the long term it would have slowed the Antigonid advance.

So our first real fight was over. How well did it go? As a game, an enjoyable session, mistakes were made, glory was had, a commander fell, worth continuing with. From a rules perspective, a bit of a relief, the game didn’t fall apart immediately, a novice player had got a grip by about half way through and most of the things I wanted to happen did so. The cavalry needs some work but not an insurmountable problem and some of the wording needs tightening up but again not a major issue. I think we’ve crossed the first hurdle so next step is get the pikes painted and on the table for a proper clash of the titans 😁

Keep safe everyone and enjoy your gaming wherever and whenever you can.

The Successors Project: Part Three

So, at the end of Part Two, where I offered up a whole load of reasons why the various commercial sets of rules I play tested didn’t quite cut it, I rather foolishly promised to offer up my own efforts for criticism 🙂

Before doing that though I would like to say that my rules adventure wasn’t just limited to the 5/6 sets I physically road tested, I also watched You Tube play throughs of several other sets to see whether they would be worth a purchase, so, Sword & Spear, Mortem et Glorium and Triumph were considered (and I think a couple more but I can’t remember now 🙂 ) but the play throughs didn’t whet my appetite. Thanks also to the various contributors on LAF who came up with suggestions.

Before opening up, here’s a re cap of the main things we were looking for in a set of ancients rules; period specific, multi figure based and multi stands to a unit, low level book keeping, modifying factors but not a shopping list, a limit on the amount of randomness, visible deterioration of a unit.

Prior to writing and before I got into the play testing previously described I did a kind of project outline document (you can take the man out of project management……..) to help me understand where we might go with the idea but also to give Dave and a couple of other guys who expressed an interest a vision of the period. What came up for me was that there was a hell of a lot more fighting than I thought there was (and that was a good thing), 5 distinct wars/campaigns stretching from Greece to Asia Minor with an ever changing cast of characters using armies that, yes were clearly ‘Macedonian’, but were also subject to the whims of geographically available manpower. The core of the armies was definitely the phalanx and the Companions so that was where the focus needed to be but there was going to be a need to be a bit broader in scope.

Making the rules period specific was the easy bit given that I was writing them 🙂 and originally I had planned to just do the ‘pure’ period of the Diadochi, the real guys who were actually around with Alexander and who had all died out by 281BC, but the more I read the more I realised that their successors, the so called Epigonoi, flowed seamlessly on from them and kept the rivalry and fighting going up until the Romans came along and spoilt everything. So, still specific to the power of the phalanx and the Companions and the elephants etc, just for a bit longer than I originally planned and a few more exotics like Galatians; basically I cut it off at the point where the Romans are facing off to the phalanx, I just didn’t need the head ache of trying to come up with rules mechanisms to fairly represent the Republican legions and once you are into Romans you are into Carthaginians and then Spanish and then……..

Before putting pen to paper Dave and I had a chat about the look we were going for and what the size of the units would be and the base sizes within those units; once we had an idea of that I could go away and see what was the best fit in terms of historical reality. I think it’s very easy, if you are going for a bigger game, to gravitate towards bigger units just because you can, so pike units of 48 figures (done that), 64 figures (done that) etc but the drawback is that your table is never big enough unless you are at the Wargames Holiday Centre or similar and that isn’t an everyday occurrence. A natural result of the big infantry blocks is that you have to go big with the cavalry and so normal size units of 8 or 10 figures suddenly have to be 12, 16 or 20 figures strong which again occupy an awful lot of space and with a good many sets of rules are effectively redundant. The obvious problems with this ‘go big or go home’ approach is, the cost, the time to assemble the units for play, the effort in moving so many figures and the fact that it can be off putting to those considering entry into the period. Now don’t get me wrong, I like big battles and think that at Westbury that is exactly what we do, but the experience needs to be enhancing not exhausting. So, after cutting out various pieces of card (60mm x 40mm, 40mm x 40mm, 50mm x 40mm, 50mm x 50mm, 80mm x 40mm) and mounting random figures on them we came up with 40mm x 40mm for the foot (4 figures, 2 x 2) and 40mm x 50mm for the horse (2 figures) with a proviso that the horse might have to go 50mm x 50mm depending on the size of the castings – this was largely driven by the size of the Victrix cavalry but once we’d dumped them we found that standard metal cavalry would fit fine on the 40mm x 50mm. A contributory factor to this choice was that these base sizes and figure alignment would work fine with Hail Caesar or Swordpoint so if my efforts bombed out then we would still have a half decent commercial set to fall back on. Once we’d agreed on this I could take it back to the history and see if fitted in somewhere and if it did project that forward to determine the potential size of the units, recognising that we were concentrating on the mainstream units here, the phalanx and the shock cavalry (Companions and their derivatives), the rest would have to bend around them. As the rules developed the bases for the ‘exotics’ like elephants & chariots went from big squares to circles to the current octagonal – works great for having a clear notion of which direction they are going to stampede off in!

Now a phalanx is notionally 16,000 men strong, bloody massive, and sits on the battlefield in quite a flat linear formation, deeper that Greek hoplites but not like renaissance Swiss; however it isn’t one immovable block it is made up of several divisions and those divisions are made up of battalions, so it was down to the maths. After some playing around I came to the conclusion that I could have one base as one battalion (or syntagma), now 8 of those make a merarchia and 4 of those make a keras (or wing) of 8,000 men; pretty good I thought, we’d have 4 units of pike which would look cool in the centre of the battlefield and we’d still have room to surround them with the supporting peltasts, mercenary hoplites and elephants as well as have room for the cavalry, yes we’d be operating at half scale but on our standard 8 foot (sometimes 10 foot) x 6 foot table that would look good. For those of you who want to do the maths that made 1 figure = 64 real guys but when it came to the cavalry that just didn’t work; the smallest cavalry unit was the squadron (or ilai) of 256 men which would mean 4 figures, not too bad and absolutely fine for the army of Alexander where the squadron was the tactical unit but in the Successors period several ilai were combined into a hipparchy (or regiment) of around 1,000 men or 4 ilai so we’d be looking at 16 figures and there was usually 4 hipparchies per wing. Now for those who have much bigger tables and plenty of money this probably sounds perfect and good luck to you, double up the size of the pike blocks and away you go, but we wanted it to be doable, better to have 4 regiments per wing of a reasonable size that could operate as their historical counterparts did than have 4 behemoths that just take up space. I couldn’t make any progress with this at first and was thinking well ok maybe 2 x 16 man units per wing in 2 ranks? then it became blindingly obvious, just half it! double ranked cavalry units never work anyway so the base becomes the squadron, so a regiment is 4 bases, very do able and 1 figure = 128 men; actual play testing led me into having the elite cavalry as 3 bases so they could form wedge and the satrap cavalry as 4 which has worked so far and for the pike I ended up cheating a little by making them 9 bases strong in 3 ranks so they looked different to to mercenary hoplites alongside them and had a rank advantage.

Once the basic building blocks were established the rest of the prerequisites to play soon fell into place; there is hardly any armour so you either are or you aren’t, weapons are pretty standard, only the infantry have shields, there are shock cavalry and skirmish cavalry, there are melee infantry and skirmish infantry, so with the skirmishers it was just less figures on a base which did lead me to having the standard skirmish cavalry base as double sized – 1 figure on a base looked silly. I did however succumb to the non historical, purely wargaming formation, of Loosely Formed Infantry to represent peltasts and warbands; everyone knows there is no such formation really but it is a convenient conceit. The range of morale (or bravery or class or whatever you want to call it) seems pretty limited, there are elites and veterans, a whole load of mercenaries who are generally pretty reliable, a goodly number of levy who aren’t so reliable and the great bulk of the armies who are just that, the steady eddies who turned up, fought and died; I opted not to do a ranked hierarchy or stats but instead built in advantages and disadvantages for the various types in different situations. The one thing I did realise, and have tried to build in, is the effect of leaders; none of them are crap, most are pretty effective and some are downright amazing in the right circumstances, so again I’ve built in advantages in certain situations – Pyrrhus, for example, would be classed as ‘Daredevil’ which gives a decided advantage if he’s in the front rank of a unit when they are attempting to charge and when fighting their first round of combat but of course he is at a greater risk of being killed (although nobody is throwing tiles off a roof!). In a moment of madness I did come up with the idea of listing every leader from the period on a spread sheet and ranking them according to what I could find out about them, then ‘costing’ them in the army lists against the armies they could serve with; I actually got a a fair way through this with notes all over the desk and a pounding headache before I thought “what the hell am I doing, I promised Dave this would be straight forward” binned the lot, headache went away 🙂

The first big decision was sequence of play. I have no bias either way in terms of alternate or simultaneous, I’ve played both, written rules incorporating both, and there are plusses and minuses for both. I did think about the completely random approach which has become very popular of late, tokens out of a bag, cards from a deck, and refinements of that theme but I confess to having a real problem with it, to me it has very little to do with the reality of a massed battle, I can see the use in the chaos of a skirmish encounter but not beyond that. I was inclining towards alternate play, it’s easier to administer, there is a sense of generals trying to counter each other and I thought that if I gave an advantage to a certain kind of wily general when the players diced for who went first (let’s call it Initiative) that would give it a sense of excitement. The problem is that one guy is sitting on his arse waiting while the other guy has all the fun unless you then cheat it and have certain things as simultaneous – shooting & melee are the usual ones, but I didn’t want to do that. Then I remembered the idea in Civitates Bellantes of alternate moving but with the guy with the initiative going first in each phase rather than hogging the whole turn – FoG kind of had something like this. The problem with CB was that there were ifs and buts, the opponent could counter charge for example, not for me I was going to go with ideological purity! This wasn’t without it’s problems but I think I’ve got this to work now. So what were the phases to be?

Originally I went for 7 phases; Command & Control (Rallying), Getting into a Fight (charges), Manoeuvre (movement), Shooting, Finishing the Fight (melee), Galloping Off (enforced movement) and Shock of Battle (morale) but after some initial disastrous playtesting (it’s good to burst the bubble of over confidence) I dropped it to 6 and rethought what happened in each phase. Now 6 phases would be a lot for an opponent to wait around for but with my idea that both players would do each phase in order of initiative diced for at the beginning of each full turn there wouldn’t be so much waiting around and it would be like playing two turns in one; so in Command & Control player A (who won the initiative roll) would move his leaders, rally units and maybe write new orders then player B would do his; yes you could do this simultaneously but play experience has shown that at some point it’s going to matter who gets rallied and who doesn’t and the guy going second has a chance of getting the right units ready for being on the receiving end for the rest of the turn – one of the few advantages he will have. In the Contact phase (original title was a bit pretentious) player A will test and launch all his charges and the opposition will either stand or bugger off in some form or other and player A will fight a round of combat – a kind of ‘shock of impact’, only he fights, player B doesn’t fight back and there will be some kind of result, once all this is done player B gets to launch his guys. I wont bore you with every phase but the process applies in each, so in Manoeuvre where at different points of the game it will make a difference whether you go first or second the winner of the dice roll needs to think ahead a bit, in Shooting player B might have less guys to shoot back with, in Continuing Combat player A’s advantage becomes clear because in any stuck melee’s from Contact he is fighting first again, poor old player B is hoping to desperately hold on but this is also the phase where reinforcements can be thrown in, with Consequences you probably could do the rallying simultaneously because both players are testing for bad things that happened to them, they don’t much care about the other guys at this point.

All very well but how do things get resolved? At the start of the writing process I decided I was going to use just one dice type – I’ve used and written rules with several dice types but for the sake of simplicity (it’s an ageing group!) I wanted to use one and after a few trial runs I went for D8, it gave enough of a spread and as I progressed through the early ideas it sat best with where I was going, a kind of synergy. As stated earlier we didn’t want a shopping list all encompassing test which you used for everything but only certain things applied for certain events, my vision was a series of mini tests specific to the particular event (charging, rallying, casualties) with factors only relevant to that event and a standard pass threshold. Now the standard pass threshold didn’t work (I used 6), or should I say it necessitated too many factors to make sure good guys stuck around and crap guys bugger off and those factors were always the same, +2 if Elites, -2 if Levy, you get the idea; then in a lightbulb moment I realised that if I made the pass threshold specific to the class then the shopping list would get shorter and players would know that their Elites always needed a 4 and above and their Levy a 7 and above to, charge, kill, shoot, rally and only a few factors specific to the test would effect that. It’s worked surprisingly well.

Once the threshold thing and the dice were settled a lot of the peripheral stuff could slot into place, being standard wording for things like visibility, terrain types, deployment, orders, ranks fighting, movement restrictions – there really is only a few ways of doing these. For the terrain I went for the tried and trusted version of a few specific types and then have one player place them and the other player choose deployment edge; a simple scouting mechanism would create a difference in ‘scouting points’ which in turn would lead to one player moving or removing pieces and/or creating fords over waterways, putting roads through woods and scattering caltrops. for each point difference. Armies would be divided into simple commands each under a leader – X number of units under a leader who has a zone of influence, who deploy in the standard rectangle measured off the base edge, if a unit isn’t in zone it can’t do stuff. Orders are the big four (attack, advance, hold, skirmish) applied by default, so all elites attack, peltasts advance, skirmishers skirmish, no ifs, buts and maybes.

When it came to effects of the shooting and fighting the big question was what happens to the elephants and chariots? Everyone else is pretty easy to work out, good guys keep on going until they’re nearly all dead, skirmishers ‘don’t like it up ’em’, mercenaries are fine until stuff starts to go wrong, but the exotics were a challenge. Despite our modern day prejudices, coloured somewhat by Roman writers, the use of elephants wasn’t a complete disaster, in fact they were pretty effective within the confines of Macedonian warfare (otherwise why did they use them?) but when things went wrong it could be quite spectacular! I trialled various ideas; permanently random movement, stampede as soon as they are shot at, elephant guards, non elephant guards, tables for direction of movement, non of which did it for me. Where I have got to now is that, they move/charge at a standard rate and units near them or hit by them are unformed (similar for chariots), if they take casualties there is a 50% chance of the mahout/driver being killed and then the elephant/chariot stampedes/goes out of control – and this is where the D8 worked out well, roll the dice, count the flats round the octagon to match the score and there’s your direction of travel. Anyone in the way gets run through and disordered except formed infantry who stand and fight (chariots bounce off), a fixed number of casualties kills off the model which then becomes a piece of difficult terrain – the most fun in the trial games was when they didn’t hit formed infantry but just careered around making a mess until someone shot them down.

I mentioned casualties above and the exotics are the only units that carry casualties until death, so a little bit of book keeping or casualty counters. For everyone else the place I’ve got to is casualties are inflicted in whole figures during a turn and a complete base worth is removed and is the reason to test in whatever phase that happens but if by the final phase a unit has casualties amounting to less than a base then they are discarded, no carry over, no book keeping. As an example, player A Companions charge into some satrap cavalry, they roll 1 x D8 for each base in contact needing the threshold of 4+, they get pluses for being charging lancers and being in wedge, they manage to inflict 2 casualties so the satrap cavalry lose that base, get pushed back 1 base depth and test for losing against their threshold but hang on. Later, in continuing combat, the Companions go again, the wedge is now imbedded in the opposition now so no pluses but they do get one for following on, however they only inflict 1 hit so no test for the satrap guys. Now the satrap guys get to fight but they’ve lost a base and they’re disordered so it’s a tall order and they do nothing; the turn goes on and by the end the satrap guys are sitting there with the 1 casualty but they had 25% losses with the lost base and that is a reason for a Consequences test (morale), but they pass so the casualty is binned off and they hope to fight first next turn. There are nuances for how many bases fight at any one time (front ranks for the initial hit, everyone after that, except….), pikes get plusses for ranks, warbands do well 1st round, etc but the amount of casualty counting is minimal.

Usually the biggy in any set of rules after the killing each other is morale and this set is no different in that it has a turn mop up test but only against a limited criteria – multiples of 25% losses, dead leaders, friends buggered off, but passing favours the better threshold units; the bad results have usually come out of the mini tests in the shooting and melee.

The final thing for any set of rules is of course the army lists which people can argue over to their hearts content or just ignore and do their own thing. I quite like army lists as long as I understand what’s going on and I appreciate the efforts that authors have gone to, but if people want to ignore them by all means crack on. I’ve done mine as already defined units, worth X much, minimum & maximum availability so:- Cataphracts – Formed Cavalry, Lancers, Fully Armoured – 2 to 4 – 7 talents (points), simple and effective. What wasn’t quite so simple was me getting completely carried away! Because it was such a small time frame I knew I could do lists for all the main antagonists, so, Antipater, Perdiccas, Eumenes, Antigonus, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, but then there were the minor players, Seleucus (early on), Peucestas, Asander, oh and then Cassander and Demetrius, and then……. Utter madness, I’ve ended up with around 30, some very similar of course but all having some level of uniqueness, but mad all the same.

I think I’ve waffled on long enough here. It was my intent just to give a flavour but that is quite difficult and originally I intended to include excerpts from the rules but that looked crap so apologies for the solid text. If you want me to send you a pdf for you to take the piss out of (not for publication or sale to 3rd parties etc) then contact us at the blog or maybe easier, DM on the Twitter page or email at the group email address.

Many thanks for reading. Keep safe.

The Successors Project: Part Two

Right, so we’ve agreed we’re doing Successors as the next big project; you know, the next big project we were never going to do 🙂 and we’ve selected our major source for figures and got a rough idea of how many we’re going to need – lots! But, we can’t have a wargame without a set of rules can we? No problem thought I, there are dozens of them around, this will be easy!
Before rushing out and buying several commercial sets of rules at twenty quid a pop, Dave and I had a couple of garden meetings during the summer of 2020 and talked through what we were after in terms of how the game would play and what it would look like and came up with some guiding parameters.

Our primary need was for the figures to be multi based on stands and for X number of those stands to represent a unit; preferably the unit frontages would be common throughout. We didn’t want element bases in the DBA style – if we’d wanted to play chess that would be our hobby! and what we most definitely did not want was singly based figures moving around on sabot bases masquerading as units.
On the record keeping aspect, which a certain faction of gamers seem to have a real problem with these days, we’ve done it in most of our rules so a little bit of book keeping or utilising casualty counters wasn’t a worry.
Factors. Gamers seem to have divided into love them or hate them these days, most of the rule sets we play have factors in one form or another so again, not too worried, but we did agree NO to shopping lists.
Randomness. If there were no dice it wouldn’t be a war game but we like our random aspect to be contained within a narrow band so NO to buckets of dice, NO to random movement – no evidence whatsoever and NO to silly random event/command cards – “Lucretius Cretinus has a cold, no orders given for the next two turns”, it’s not bloody kindergarten!
Commercial rules if possible. Now one of our occasional opponents, outside of the Group, thought this to be highly hilarious, “You, play to a set of commercial rules? Never going to happen!” Yes I have written most of the rule sets we use and some have been published but with so many sets available – I listed around twenty when we got started, I genuinely thought it would be a doddle to find a set that answered most of our needs even if we had to locally tweak; you can see where this is going, can’t you?
Ideally a period specific set would be perfect but I kind of knew going in this was likely to be an impossible dream.

Having done a bit of preliminary reading I sorted through my existing rule sets and quickly realised that when I played WRG 5th & 6th and Shock of Impact, my young brain was far more agile and so they and Tactica and the Newbury set went quietly back into the box. Still not wanting to splash the cash just yet I sent out the call to nearby occasional opponents to see what they might have and in a few weeks I had, To The Strongest, Warhammer Ancient Battles, Field Of Glory, Vis Bellica, and Hail Caesar, to which I later added Civitates Bellantes and Swordpoint. Now I had something to be getting on with which was just as well because restrictions were tightening so solo gaming different rule sets would be my gaming for the next few months – I now realise why I game with others, solo gaming is crap.

First up was, To The Strongest. I’d heard good things about these and the guy who lent them to me certainly thought they were worth the money, but there again he plays DBA so what does he know 🙂 Now straight off the bat they didn’t meet the basing criteria, having one base size for all units with different numbers of figures on the base (well 3 base sizes actually as this varies with table size) to represent a unit type, so one base = one unit, but I thought ‘hey, embrace the difference, the ancients gaming world has moved on and you might have missed something’. So I dutifully cut out lots of 180mm x 40mm strips of card and played through a game (actually it was more like two games because for each set I would start, realise what I was doing wrong and then replay earlier moves – hey it was lockdown, what else was I going to do?).
Before I go any further though I think I need to come clean here, I really didn’t like these rules, complete respect to Simon Miller for all the work he put in to make them different and the army lists he did are exhaustive but it was a bad start to the quest. I think I should have stopped when I realised the basic concepts of the game; ok, so one base = one unit, then the playing area is divided into a grid or box of squares of a certain size in which one unit can exist, the units are then activated (its an I go, you go system) by the active player (I couldn’t work out how this was decided) drawing cards from a standard deck and they move a certain number of boxes, there are no rulers or dice. Now call me old fashioned but haven’t we just chucked away what makes a wargame a wargame?
Undeterred I ploughed on; so to move unit X I would declare that intent and draw a card from my deck needing 2+, I draw a 4 so happy days but I can activate that unit again if I want to but now I need more than the 4 on the next card and so it goes on until you fail and hand over to your opponent, so the ‘skill’ is to calculate your odds on getting a higher card or not (like a glorified pub game) and move on to your next unit before you fail. This can make for a very randomised and fractured game which looks awful and I would propose has nothing to do with history – some dark age battles maybe (maybe) but neither the sources or modern interpretations give any indication of this kind of fracture, if anything ancient Hellenistic battles can be a bit on the boring side, the trick being to use your cavalry effectively.
The shooting and melee obviously also use the cards; to hit, the player draws a card needing 4+ (I think), if successful the opponent draws a card needing to beat an arbitrary saving factor, if he is successful then happy days he gets to fight back, if not, then generally the unit goes disordered and if hit again then it is lost – a posh way of saying destroyed. For me there were two problems with this; first, I had gone from playing a board game to now playing cards in the pub and secondly the ease with which units could be destroyed meant that the nicely painted 16 pike figures (I think it was16) you had on your one base were now in the metaphorical bin. The reward for tabling nicely painted figures was zero, there was no sense of a unit being worn down yet fighting on valiantly as you removed bases, one minute it’s there the next minute it’s gone.
There are also rules for 5 levels of command (on different big bases) which I’ll admit I never really got to grips with as I was too busy playing cards, which rather neatly brings us to the visuals of the game which at times were quite awful, multiple cards behind different units and then alternate cards for the combat, it looked shite and at times so confusing you lost track of what you were doing. I explained all this to Dave and the one big base idea he liked (“save us moving all those pike bases around”) but then I explained the grid and the cards, “sounds like a board game to me and I don’t play board games”. Case closed.

Next up was Vis Bellica. Again recommended by a fellow gamer and one who used to be a very serious ancients player so hopes were high. At it’s core Vis Bellica has the same DNA as To The Strongest (although written some time before) in that a unit is one base with the variance being the number of figures on the base – some of which are quite strange arrangements, however we do get to use rulers and dice! Before I got started there was an awful lot of exposition concerning, experience (levy, elite, etc), order (close order, open order, skirmish order, rinse & repeat for cavalry), weight (armour but expressed as a version of order like light cavalry, heavy cavalry, etc), armament (distance & melee) and then all the abbreviations for what has gone before and then the number of figures on a base for the different versions of order; all this and we’re only using one 6″ x 3″ base! And it kept on going! I finally got to the playing the game bit at page 28 of 45 pages and I think my irritation may have affected my enjoyment level. The game turn is split into 3 phases (simple), a compulsory phase (routs, ongoing melees & flank moves), a command phase (leader bases move, spotting & orders) and an action phase – the nitty gritty of charges, shooting, movement and casualties (which is actually officers only because the figures are purely symbolic). I’m pretty sure this is a simultaneous movement game but I could be wrong because it didn’t seem to say one way or the other, never the less I did play two games.

Going through the sequence; having the routs as the first thing was quite handy in clearing the table and given the speed of movement (see later) the table can get cleared quite quickly, melees are worked out by modifying the unit’s arbitrary base strength (a number derived from the experience, order and whether infantry or cavalry) from a fairly lengthy factors table plus a 2 x D6 roll then divide by 5 (rounding down) and the result is knocked off the opponent’s base strength. Loser takes a morale test using the now modified base strength plus factors from another table and is either ok, shaken or routs. This was very tedious to play (not helped by the melee and morale stuff being in different parts of the book) and given that you are using 2 D6 very random.

The command phase has the movement of leader bases which are 9″ x 18″. What the ****! It took me a while to realise what was going on with this but of course 6″ x 3″ bases are multiples that fit into the larger thus defining the command but there really was no need for this. Further complication was provided by there being 4 levels of command – CinC, General, sub general and leader with the leader having a number of bases under his command and when on the table those leaders can do spotting to find out whether they can see the enemy but that is dependent on rolling for command points which are also used for changing orders, rallying and removing disorder. Why? Just why? This was way over the top and just needless aggro when all you want to do is get on and fight; the section talks about junior officers and brigades and includes a table showing the number of points required to take an action dependent on rank and distance away, Jesus! This isn’t the C18th; in your average ancient battle there is a king and two or maybe three sub commanders who have been told what to do, the enemy is visible across the other side of a generally featureless battlefield, most troops behave in a standard manner, off we go!

The action phase was the main event. The movement is massive! Light cavalry bound along at 20″ and if they are skirmish order they add another 4″ – this kind of shows the pointlessness of the earlier lengthy division of troop types. Heavy & medium infantry go at 10″, pretty nifty but then look at missile distances; a javelin man at long range shoots at 8″, a slinger at long range is 12″, short is 10″ so in one move a pike phalanx is all over those pesky skirmishers making them completely redundant, so why did the ancients have them in their thousands? What also becomes clear is the need for a big table, your average 6′ x 4′ is not going to be any use, in 2 turns the enemy skirmish cavalry are at your deployment zone, yes your pikes will be in contact pretty quickly but we know from the ancient sources that the armies deployed some way off to allow the skirmishers to have a go and for the cavalry to try and flank, not so here. The shooting is like the melee. base strength, lengthy factor table, 2 x D6, casualties of 25% (which aren’t casualties obviously just a reduction in the base strength) means morale test. It is also at this point that officers and standard bearers (the army standard idea from WRG is used here which was a crap idea back in the days of 7th edition) can be killed which can then trigger a morale test. This works fine but it is a bit long winded.

Looking back at my notes after the play throughs I see comments like “too mathsy” with reference to the casualty calculations, “none of this is any good” regarding the command rules, “good ideas but too complex” for the shooting & melee, “too fast” for the movement, but what really killed it was the feel, that completely intangible thing that either is or isn’t, the one base = one unit just doesn’t do it for me and again my overall feeling was that I’d played a board game in which my nicely painted figures were utterly redundant.

Next on our lockdown journey was Simon MacDowall’s Civitates Bellantes, a lesser know work compared to some but one aimed solely at the classical period and by an author who I rate as an innovator having played his Legio rules and Comitatus.

The rules started on familiar ground with the WRG/DBA basing standard of a 60mm x 40mm base and between 2 and 6 of these ‘stands’ makes up a unit. The number of figures on the base define the troop type (Light Infantry, Light Cavalry, etc) but again the number of figures doesn’t actually matter. Other preparatory stuff gives arbitrary characteristics for different troop types, being an Attack value, a Defence value and a long & short range shooting ability; a training grade ranging from A to C and morale classes (4) ranging from exceptional to poor, armour is a comparative thing relating to others. For me this was all a bit overdone but simple enough. Dice are D6 and D average (very WRG!) but no rulers, instead we have measuring sticks marked with half and full stand frontages and a full stand frontage is called a ‘javelin throw’ (JT) which is the basis for movement and ranges. Now I’m going to say this now, what an utterly pointless concept; movement is in half JT’s (it even sounds ridiculous) but shooting in full JT’s with short range being 1JT and long being 5JT, so what’s wrong with just saying 60mm (way too small anyway) and 300mm. I tried it but soon gave it up, there was no point, it was confusing and served no profitable purpose.

The sequence was alternate with players dicing for initiative (who goes first) but here the going first is for each phase in the turn (command, movement & shooting, combat, morale) not playing through the whole turn and then handing over to the other guy. I liked this, I thought it gave some interesting tactical choices and meant that one player wasn’t hanging around too long.

The command phase is linked to the chain of command set out which gives a General and Sub Generals plus a Contingent Commander for allies. The nub of the phase is leaders moving to steady or inspire troops by attaching themselves to them or positioning themselves within 1JT (remember how small that is) of his units and exerting de facto control, those out of the distance are not under control and take a test which results in them doing as they are told, whooping it up and sailing off toward the enemy or halting. My experience of this was it just being a pain in the arse; because the control distance was so small you always ended up testing something but with largely little effect and so the game slowed down, as I played I was thinking ‘if these are any good I’m going to dump this bit’.

The movement phase suffers from 3 things; one, the stupid JT idea, two, the random dice modifications applied to the JT and three the concept of permanently unformed troops. Dealing with the last first, the idea is that certain troop types are always less well ordered than others, but not disordered because that means something else in the rules, and involves spacing stands apart (1JT distance) which looks rubbish and in the midst of the battle you can end up pushing bases back together again because you’ve forgotten they were unformed; it’s an unnecessary bit of frippery (like the JT) that is just distracting. The stupid JT idea; “1/2 JT for each pip rolled on 1 x AvD plus one optional extra AvD. Except for cataphracts, cavalry may elect to roll a third optional D6,” What and why? each category has similar wording resulting in an overly fussy movement system which stutters along; I can for example roll my AvD get 4, move 120mm, then think ‘oh that wasn’t very far’ and roll another AvD but get only 2 so move 60mm but no problem I can now roll my D6 and get 6 which gives me another 180mm. I know of no ancient battle where movement was anything like this, it’s a gimmick and not a very good one. On top of this is Disorder Points (DP’s) for fatigue, terrain and manoeuvre, some of which are generated randomly and others by fixed penalty and these are serious shit because they are effectively casualties and too many means goodbye unit. The idea is fine (apart from the random ones) if you’ve bought into the no casualties idea but there are 4 pages of conditions which at times can be a little bit like ‘except on a Sunday unless you are elite guards’. More of this in morale.

The shooting is completely ineffective but in fairness to Simon he does say this. Ranges are the 1JT & up to 5JT, so javelins and bows, no differentiation for slingers so I guess they are lumped in with bows. The process is 2 x D6 per stand modified by a couple of factors at most and a score of 6 is needed to inflict a DP (casualty). It is simple and it is completely ineffective.

The charge movement and combat suffers from a lack of clarity. At first I thought you could only charge from 1JT away (because it says so) but then as long as you are in bow range (because it also says so). I think the idea is that in movement you say if you are charging and roll the amount of dice you think you need and then stop at 1JT ready to close in this phase. The rules allow a counter charge and seem to imply that both sides declare charges which seems to negate the innovative initiative within phases of earlier. Units then compare their pre determined Attack or Defence values and modify with a D6 and factors from a list, the difference in the scores is then compared against another table for an outcome depending on whether you won or lost. So if my total score was say 9 and yours was 4 then I would look up the 5+ outcome and you would look up the -5 outcome, both would involve the allocation of DP’s and some kind of movement penalty; this wasn’t very intuitive and wasn’t helped by there being no explanation, just the two tables.

The morale is the DP’s. Essentially once you get to 4 DP you are Shaken and can’t do much until rallied, either being outside of 5JT of the enemy & halted or in the command phase and this can be a bit difficult as leaders only have 2 action points (which is what you need to rally) and may want to do something else. Being in melee with high DP’s is a big minus so you can end up breaking in the melee but there is no morale failure as such. I get what was trying to be achieved here; leadership is all and you have to work hard to utilise them effectively but the process is a fag and not a lot of fun.

I had high hopes for these but despite some good ideas buried away they didn’t hang together well and weren’t an enjoyable playing experience. At a very base level I was encouraged by having stands make up a unit and I could have lived with the figures on the stand being purely decorative but then you never lose stands so what was the point? you may as well use the one big stand = one unit idea of TTS and VB.

Next up was Field of Glory a thick hard back tome that could act as a bullet proof vest. Now I don’t know anyone who plays FoG but I do know it is very competition based, has a hard core fan base and I’ve watched some games at shows (when they existed!).The basing is straight DBA, hence the competition vibe, which for a game with a lot of figures is a bit of a drag.

The sequence is an Initiative based alternate move system (kind of). How the initial Initiative is decided I didn’t understand (I diced) but after that it swops back and forth. The turn starts with charges (Impact in the rules) and the immediate melee where the active player gets stuck in and the opponent either gets out of the way or stands his ground, then normal movement for the active player, then shooting for both players, then continuing melee for both players, then joint actions like rallying and moving leaders. I liked the impact and melee idea for the active player and him moving but the rest being simultaneous struck me as an opportunity lost.

Movement is SLOW, very slow, don’t bother fielding cataphracts they don’t go anywhere (4″) and heavy pikes just crawl along (3″). Movement is split into simple and complex and units test for complex moves which is 2 x D6 plus factors needing a 7 or 8 to pass depending on drill; perfectly fine as an idea but a little complex; even on a 6′ x 4′ table this was a slow game.

Shooting ranges are really short, long range bow is 6″ and is determined by rolling a number of D6 per base depending on range. The nub of the system is what is called Points of Advantage which are plus or minuses dependent on the target and the shooter which gives a minimum score to get a hit. The number of hits taken per base determines whether the unit tests its cohesion using 2 x D6 and this raises or lowers its cohesion level which forces some kind of action although generally not much happens. There is also a Death Roll to see if a base is removed which was kind of fun but overall it felt like a lot of work for no real gain.

The melee process, whether impact or continuing, was the same as shooting, different numbers of D6 per base dependent upon whether impact or continuing and then different PoA’s – there was a lot of these, followed by cohesion test and death roll. Unfortunately it was all a bit random and I have to confess a little boring.

Morale is the cohesion test where you can drop down the cohesion level ladder or be rallied back up again.

Overall there were some good ideas; the impact & fight idea I liked and what I hadn’t mentioned, that leaders are on the same bases as the troops (so 60mm x 40mm) so can be slotted into a unit when fighting with them rather than circular leader bases that may or may not be touching a unit base. On the downside the DBA basing is a bit old hat now and the movement rates frustratingly slow plus there is just a little too much “if you do that then you must do this” which is kind of inevitable in a competition style rules set.

Next was Hail Caesar, another in the ‘big thick book’ category. Another alternate move system (whatever happened to good old simultaneous movement?) but a more pure one in that blue (for example), moves, shoots, fights and then red follows, simple enough. Armies are divided into divisions commanded by a leader, units are made up of stands, although again the number of figures doesn’t really matter and the number of stands varies according to the level of game being played – 3 I think. For the most part this is straight forward and although frontages & depths are given per figure it is easy enough to multiply up into conventional base frontages, where this comes unstuck is with the skirmishers who are based as single figures as if they had wandered onto the playing surface from a nearby skirmish game. it looks odd and plays badly.

For movement the active player declares his intent for a unit and then rolls 2 x D6, if the score is better than the general’s leadership skill (usually 8 or 9) then the unit has failed, if less then good to go, if significantly less he can move 2 or even 3 times – charges are part of the intent declaration. Very simple but man can you get some variance! Also, once you’ve failed a roll that’s it for that leader. Now I’ve played with guys for whom this is nirvana and they’ll wax lyrical about how much ‘fun’ it is. For me it was way too much, no army in ancient history behaves in such a random way when moving on the battle field. The actual movement distances are fine for a single move but with the distance multiplier light units can be across the average 6′ x 4′ in a turn so any hopes of nuanced play is killed which would seem to indicate a larger playing area (8′ x 6′) would need to be the norm.

The shooting is done by a number of D6 equal to the unit’s arbitrary ranged attack value which is modified up or down depending on the unit size. Add or take away a few modifiers and a score of 4/5/6 gives a hit. Simple. Ah, but then we have saving throws, 1 x D6 for each hit with some modifiers and the unit needs to equal or better it’s morale value. Then hits are noted against the unit stamina value, if equal it goes Shaken, if double it goes Shattered. Not so simple and bloody pointless, why do the job twice?

The close combat follows similar lines to the shooting only this time the number of D6 is equal to the unit’s arbitrary combat value, again modified by a few factors. The hit requirement is the same along with the saving and the stamina but an added dimension is that the unit which took the most hits rolls against a ‘break table’ the results of which can be anything from ok to break, in which case the unit is removed. A neat little trick with the stamina thing is that once a unit exceeds it’s level it can end up sharing them with other units.

Overall the rules are simple and effective if a trifle random and although I didn’t want to adopt them as our set I could see myself playing them if invited to do so. What’s my problem then? Well I think I’ve come to the view that the assignment of arbitrary values for everything a unit does no longer sits well with me and I say that as someone who has written 3 sets of rules that use exactly that idea! In terms of trying to create national or systemic differences to provide nuance on the battlefield it’s all well and good but it is a dictatorial approach which puts the player on the outside and when you actually look at all the numbers you’ve created there isn’t a lot of difference. I read through the army lists book that covers our time frame and the attack values and combat values etc were really not that different from one army to the next so why bother? The movement roll mechanism was really annoying after a while and cannot claim to be any kind of representation of ancient warfare, I know it’s a game mechanic I just didn’t like it. The ultimate tick in the no box however was the saving throw; I know it’s a motif of Rick Priestly and the whole Warhammer ideology but it’s time consuming, it’s dice rolling for the sake of it and frankly it’s lazy, just make your casualty mechanism robust enough for players to only have to do one thing.

As a sidebar I also gave Warhammer Ancient Battles a go just because one of my mates found a copy buried away but we’ll leave it at that; I played them and I really, really, didn’t like them.

Final playthrough in this marathon of lockdown was Swordpoint; I played the original version although I now believe there is a 2nd edition available.

Amazingly a simultaneous play set of rules divided into four phases; Initial (morale tests for previous bad stuff), Shooting, Movement (includes rallying) and Combat. Units are made up of stands, very similar in frontage to what you end up with in Hail Caesar, containing a fixed number of figures and the number of stands in a unit type has a minimum and a maximum – stands are actually removed! Groups of units are assigned a leader who has his own Attack and Cohesion value (see later) and the units have a Defence and Cohesion value; again arbitrarily assigned values but at least limited. The key aspect of the game is Momentum Points, a certain number are given at the beginning of the game and more are earned through successful play to be used to boost stats in things like melee.

The game really starts with shooting in the opening turns, ranges seemed pretty sensible and the initial process simple. A unit rolls 1 x D6 for each base it has, modified by a few factors and needing 4+ to hit. Needless complication is then added by the saving throw routine, this time 1 x D6 for each hit, modified by a couple of factors and needing to equal or beat the defence value of the unit shot at. Damm! The target unit can end up Discouraged if it took 10% of it’s base strength (number of figures per base x number of bases) which gives momentum tokens to the shooter and effects cohesion and combat, 25% casualties will lead to a cohesion test. Uniquely, casualties equal to base strength (number of figures on a base) means the base is removed, less means no base removal and there are no carry overs – simple from a record keeping point of view.

Movement is in four phases and the players dice for Initiative using a D6 plus momentum tokens (so that’s what they’re there for), the winner gets to choose whether to go first or second in the sub phases. So then we are off into declaring charges and responding – there is no test which I found odd, rallying which needs a leader in range and does involve a test, then the compulsory moves like evade or fleeing, actual charge moves take units to within 1″ and then normal moves – a neat little quirk here is allowing close order foot to go the same speed as other foot until within an arbitrary distance of the enemy, then they slow down. There are special rules for being drilled, impetuous or similar which work quite well but you did have to remember to flick to the page in the book.

The combat uses the tokens again to boost abilities and there are bonuses for being in line of battle. Fighting is done in weapon length order or whether you charged and is simultaneous. Basically it’s 1 x D6 for a cavalry base and 2 x D6 for a formed infantry base needing 4+ unless you are superior (3+) or inferior (5+) followed by the inevitable saving throws. Once that’s done the opponents compare losses, add some factors and compare the modified losses to a table which gives the result for the loser. Again bases are removed for whole bases lost and carry overs discarded. Serious losses force a Break Test which can result in the unit fleeing and all these outcomes give momentum tokens to the winner.

All these outcomes then roll into the start of the next turn and morale tests kick off that turn.

Again pretty simple and effective and like Hail Caesar I would play if invited into a game with no qualms but ultimately not quite there which just goes to prove my mates point and I think he’s right I obviously do have an in built resistance to commercial rule sets. That said this was the nearest set and if my own efforts don’t work out this would probably be the set with some local mods. My main objection to these was, not surprisingly, the saving throws, but also the innovative momentum tokens isn’t quite as ground breaking as I first thought because it does become slightly artificial and massively favours the attacker so Harold on his hill at Hastings hasn’t got much of a chance of getting tokens and keeping track of the damm things was a bit of a chore.

So that’s it, a good cross section of rules trialled and the promised land not quite reached , no surprises there! What I did find however was some quirky ideas I would like to see in my ideal set and several ideas and themes that I would never want to game with. All through the trials I was making notes on the main areas of each set of rules and then separately writing up short paragraphs on what I wanted from movement, melee, shooting, etc and at about the 2/3rds point I thought “I’m going to have a go at a set” which I was going to offer up here but this has waffled on for far to long so I’m going to sign off and then do another post describing my fledgling set and maybe offer people the chance to criticise me the way I have others here.

Until then, be safe.

The Successors Project: Part One

So, we were ‘Thinking About Successors’ now its a project!

In our original thinking it was going to be easy (cue gales of hysterical laughter), buy solely plastic figures from Victrix, paint ’em up, choose a set of rules from the many available and boom! project done. Oh how naïve we were.

In this post we’ll just talk figures, mainly because our journey was a classic example of fooling yourself into an easy project when like every other project any wargamer has ever done there is always more to it than meets the eye.

Having said ‘Victrix it is’, we thought “well maybe some samples would be a good idea, but probably not a whole box”. Dave did a search of eBay and a couple of sprues were bought and built up and along the way we got hold of a Warlord sprue for comparison – mainly because they were cheaper 🙂 The Victrix pikemen are really nice, good detail well realised, nice crisp mouldings, certainly a good choice; the cavalry though? well it’s not that they aren’t any good, the detail is just as good as the infantry but the horses are massive! Now admittedly you might say the Victrix are a little bit on the ‘heroic’ side but with the infantry that doesn’t seem to matter too much as they are all bunched together and most of the allies and enemies – Hoplites, Galatians, etc are in the same range so no problem. The riders are of the same proportions but stick them on the horses and they look way out of proportion, like some kind of bizarre optical illusion, and the horses are definitely overdone. We tried to rationalise this by saying “well they’re all from the same manufacturer and it isn’t like we’re going to be mixing metal and plastic” but the more we looked at them the more they just didn’t look right and by then I’d done enough research to know that even at the most basic level we were going to need more than just the standard box of Successor Heavy Cavalry to cover just the various iterations of ‘Companions’, never mind the allied Greek heavy cavalry, Seleucid cataphracts, satrap heavy cavalry, Asiatic light cavalry and Tarentine cavalry. The figures are multi part so with a bit of effort and imagination we could probably get past most of the issues we saw but the elephant in the room (couldn’t resist!) was the size of the horse, we just couldn’t get past it, which was a bit of a problem as, a) you can’t have Successors without cavalry, and b) part of our cost analysis was based on £2.25 per plastic cavalry piece against around £3.30 per metal cavalry piece (unless you want to be robbed by Foundry at £4.60 per cavalry piece!).

On the up side we realised that the Victrix and Warlord pikemen were compatible, not in the same unit (the Warlord figures are a slighter build than the Victrix), but as side by side units the difference is lost in the mass of pikes, which was a pleasant revelation because we had thought it would have to be one or the other based on comments on LAF and Twitter. Also on the upside was the availability of Hoplite mercenaries from Victrix, four boxes potentially, which became important when research revealed that mercenary hoplites were in virtually every army and in significant numbers. Also on the upside was the availability of those pesky skirmishers, again four boxes that would cover all our needs for slingers, bowmen, javelin men and peltasts. So, given that the infantry contingent is by far the most numerous, and a Victrix pikemen came out at 75p compared to around £1.30 for the metal counterpart and we were looking at about 200 infantry per side (based on our projection of what we thought it would look like), the maths was definitely favouring the plastics and the range of figures was supporting that – phew!

But what to do about the cavalry? Well it was looking like we were going to have to go the metal route but what ranges were out there? What spread was there within any given range? How well would any range scale up against the plastic infantry?

A shout out on LAF and a a swift google search revealed we didn’t need to worry much about availability. Some of the ranges were the older offerings that had been around for some time like, Foundry, Essex and Old Glory, some were ones we just didn’t realise like, Gripping Beast and 1st Corps and some were new (to us at least) like, Aventine and Armorum & Aquila. Samples were duly sent for unless we already had the odd figure lying around in our lead mountains or the pricing was extortionate (Foundry at £1.75 per figure) and I put together a cost comparison sheet to help us understand how much we could end up spending, which was quite revealing.

Of all the ranges the Aventine is without doubt the most exhaustive and if we had been doing the project in all metal with money being no object (remember this was a whim project) we would have absolutely gone for these, lovely detailed castings covering different armour types (6 for the infantry I think), different helmet styles, a plethora of cavalry castings covering Macedonian, Seleucid & Ptolemaic forces, early and late era, a virtual cornucopia. The only but (and of course there would be a but!) was the horses (again!), I thought they looked a little small, a bit like ponies (which is actually probably closer to history), in fairness Dave didn’t agree and against their own infantry it didn’t matter but against the plastic pikemen, even the Warlord it just didn’t quite work. A time wasting spin off from this was me then buying a pack of riders from them and then trying them out on different ‘bigger’ horses, a real blind alley I should never have gone up.

Ultimately it came down to either 1st Corps or or Gripping Beast that looked best against the pike, both did a fairly decent range with Gripping Beast edging it in terms of spread and theirs was the newer range but then we got into the cost and that was quite revealing, not just for these two but for all the ranges we considered.

Yes, I know cost isn’t everything, but when you are making a significant purchase in one go rather than dragging it out from one convention to the next I think it is. I wont bore you with the full analysis I put together but here are the highlights.

We looked at, Aventine, Essex, Armorum & Aquila, Old Glory, Foundry, Crusader, Gripping Beast and 1st Corps, and considered the depth of the range and the cost per figure. Where I use the phrase ‘cost per figure’ here I’m referring to horse and rider and comparing it to the baseline of £2.25 per figure for the Victrix Companion Cavalry and £15 for the elephant & crew.

As already stated the Aventine range is the most extensive plus it does various elephants but no scythed chariots. The cost per figure comes out at £3.23 and the elephants come in at £16.

The Essex range has a decent enough spread including Bactrians but this is an old range and to charge £3.75 per figure and £19.35 for the elephant is quite frankly a bit of a cheek.

Armorum & Aquila is a small range, not much bigger than the Victrix spread and the figures are a little bit on the smaller size; price per figure is £3.25 and no elephants.

Old Glory is a compact range, basically one of each of what you’d need and comes in at £3.20 per figure and £17.50 for the elephant.

The Foundry range is small so not a lot of use and at £4.60 per figure and £34 for an elephant they are just taking the piss.

Crusader is another small range with no elephant and rolls in at £3.30 per figure.

Gripping Beast is a nice range covering most of the bases and relatively new coming in at £3.30 per figure and £18.50 for the elephant.

1st Corps is again a decent enough range covering most of the bases although a little bit cataphract heavy which come in at £2.50 per figure or £2.25 if you go for the unit packs and £16.20 for the elephant and they also do a scythed chariot at £12.

As you can see 1st Corps absolutely aced it on price and even the slightly more expensive elephant beats most of the opposition and it’s part metal. We did a bit of working out using the unit packs and realised that two of their packs of 12 would give us three of our 8 man cavalry units and as we keep saying to ourselves ‘the cavalry are not the main ingredient’. We checked the samples again to make sure we were happy with the sizing and I reckon we’ve convinced ourselves it’ll be ok, so soon a couple of hundred quid order to 1st Corps will be sent off for at least the basic cavalry we’re going to need for most armies. We also mix and matched the other various sample figures we’d bought and sent out to be painted and reckon we can mix them in to flesh out the numbers so nothing wasted there.

So that’s the figure journey begun, some figures are being painted as we speak, we picked up some painted Warlord pikemen off eBay so that’s a bit of a start, what we really need is for Victrix to get their stock levels sorted so we can buy loads of pikes!!

Next post we’ll look at the quest for a set of rules – what a nightmare!

Thinking About Successors

Back in the summer of 2019, when the world was young and we were in the casual days of post 1st lockdown Dave and I were sitting in the garden chatting nonsense, like most wargamers do in an idle moment, when Dave posed the inevitable question “is there any period you wish you’d done?” Somewhat taken aback because we’d agreed back in 2018 that we were not going to do any more big periods, just additions to existing ones, and put our efforts into contained skirmish efforts, I answered without hesitation, Successors.

Now Dave is an C18th & C19th man who has very willingly indulged my desires for early time frames such as Arthurian and Italian Wars so I readied myself to snobbishly prattle on about the post Alexandrian world but was stopped by Dave’s response, “Oh yeah, Seleucids and Ptolemaics, that could be interesting”. Serves me right for trying to be all superior – shame on me! The conversation then gathered pace as I waffled on about having started the period twice but given up because I couldn’t find a set of rules that worked for me, it was expensive in 28mm (even back in the day!) and reminded him that one of our group who was doing Romans to face off to the later Macedonians I was doing at the time, left in a huff over a perceived slight taking his Romans with him! Undaunted, Dave brushed aside my pessimism and lack of excitement (actually I was really excited but didn’t want a 3rd failed project on my hands) and hooked me with “but there are all these plastic ancients now, surely that could work?” And I was in, ready to get researching and costing the potential of such a project.

Macedonian Phalangites - Victrix Limited

As everyone knows we are unashamedly 28mm players and when it comes to ‘proper games’ (ie not skirmishes) we like it to be a significant visual spectacle, not a couple of units and that’s your ‘army’, so this was going to be quite an investment in figures which meant quite a financial investment too. Our agreed going in point was therefore plastics from the two main suppliers, Victrix (above example taken from Google Images) or Warlord Games; the Victrix range is an extensive broad brush Ancients offering while the Warlord range is more Roman centric. Both offer a clear economic advantage over that of their metal cousins but could it be enough? More of this later.

Before we got too excited though and dived headfirst into something that could easily turn into a quagmire I thought I better do a bit of research so that I could remind myself what it was all about and also give Dave some detail so that he could back out if it wasn’t quite what he expected – the rest of the group were in deep pandemic hiding so this really was going to be a two hander.

The research was great fun and really got me fired up; I dusted off my old classics like Bar Kochva’s ‘The Seleucid Army’ and Scullard’s ‘The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World’, got out all my old copies of Slingshot (even re-joined The Society of Ancients), and indulged myself in some newer works like Waterfield’s ‘Dividing the Spoils’ and Robert’s & Bennett’s ‘The Wars of Alexander’s Successors’. From these and others plus good old Wikipedia I was able to put together a three page document for Dave detailing the various kingdoms, the different armies and the campaigns & battles of the Diadochi – so many of these! I’d quite forgotten what a brilliant (and short) period it is, murder, betrayal, shifting alliances, highs and lows of ambition and a whole cast of characters, all in 50 odd years! Once all the original Successors are dead it’s not so exciting as it settles down into the main kingdoms but still with battles and campaigns to be fought and we do have Galatians and we always have elephants! It all gets a bit boring once the Romans start interfering so I suggested we cut it off before that.

The document served it’s purpose, I was completely fired up and Dave realised there was a lot more scope than just Seleucid v Ptolemaic and as he rightly pointed out we could do standard pike blocks and standard companion cavalry and then just mix and match for whatever armies we fancied doing plus a few exotics to round out the specific army; this approach would also mean it would be a true joint project, no need for one guy doing Seleucid and one guy doing Antigonid, if we were clever we could just build a joint collection that we could just choose from each time we played.

There was still a lot of work to do; what actual figures, size of units, rules, terrain, the painting of that many figures, and I hope to do a couple more posts on these (what turned out to be) bumpy roads, but for us to get started the costs needed to work. Time for some simple maths. A box of Victrix phalangites retailed at £19.95 for 27 figures so 74p a figure and the Warlord equivalent at £22 for 40 figures so 55p a figure compared to metal foot figures anywhere between £1.20 & £1.75 a figure. On the cavalry front the plastic guys come in at £2.25 (less for the lighter stuff) compared to anywhere up to £4.60 for the metal; foolishly I also looked at the cost of metal elephants, OMG! This had become a no brainer, plastic it was with Victrix becoming the primary brand, mainly because of the range of boxes, we reckoned we could use around 12 boxes and the more boxes you bought the bigger the discount which was particularly attractive in terms of the pike.

So a project was born and all from a casual conversation in the garden – bloody lockdown! We’ve moved on a bit since then but cautiously so I’ll do another post on the rest of the journey regarding figures, which has had a few twists and turns, and a post on choosing rules which really has been quite an eye opener!

Stay tuned.