Friday, 20 January 2017

The Battle of the Plain - a Sword & Spear AAR

I collected my copy of  Sword & Spear 2nd Edition at Salute last year having had a very enjoyable trial game a few weeks earlier with a couple of gaming chums. In true wargaming style they had then just sat there after the usual cursory read through of the rules. Then a post by my friend Keith Flint got me thinking about some proper Ancients gaming. In true wargames butterfly mode this quickly morphed into a full blown Imagi-Nations project, more of which another time.

So over Xmas I decided to get in some small, very quick and simple games of Sword & Spear, just to get a handle on the game mechanics. These were played out on the bedroom floor (shades of my early wargames as a child) on a 2' x 2' board with a few units aside. Despite my knees not thanking me for playing on the floor, these games were perfect to get a handle on the game. Combined with post game reading of the rules followed by more test games, I felt confident enough to suggest to Dave that we might kick off the new wargaming season with them. 

Dave was up for this and gave him a good excuse to dig out his Warmaster Ancients armies. These had last seen the light of day when we had  tried out 'Hail Caesar' which frankly had not given us a nice game. It would be interesting to see how these compared. So after a trial game the previous week, which went well (Dave even ordered the rules), we thought it was high time to have a 'proper' game, using commanders and the terrain set up mechanism. In terms of forces, we settled upon 450 points, with Dave taking a Hunnic force and myself an Anglo-Saxon one

Terrain Set Up
Broadly speaking both sides roll 2D6, with the lowest die roll being the minimum number of terrain the pieces they can lay, the highest roll the maximum. You then roll on 2 further tables which determine where the piece is placed and how much, if any it is moved. 

Naturally Dave wanted an open table so that his Huns could run rings around me, whilst I wanted the reverse of this. Dave rolled his die which allowed him to place two pieces of terrain. He choose to combine them into a large hill, which was duly placed. I had to place a minimum of two and a maximum of six. To cut a long story short my die rolling led to all of my terrain ending up in one corner of the table, with the rest of it billiard board flat, not exactly what I wanted. 

Deploying our forces followed (which can be seen below), with mine deployed in a long line, with a small reserve and skirmishers and cavalry on the flanks. Dave deployed the bulk of his troops on his left flank to naturally try and turn my flank and roll up my line. 

Due to the nature of the Turns and the phases contained therein, it is a bit hard to write a 'normal' AAR. As such annotated pics will hopefully give an idea of how the game ebbed and flowed. So without further ado...

My forces deployed in the right, Dave's on the left. Note: that the red discs represent my Captains, as I was using my Dux Bellorum force which does not contain any command stands.
My line had its left flank anchored on the wood with javelin armed skirmishers to add some mobility to counter any threats to it. On the right I deployed my cavalry and archers, again to give protection and mobility. In the centre was my reserve to plug any gaps should they appear.
As expected, Dave pushed his light horse forward to try and turn my right flank, whilst I pushed my left towards the hill.
With my right flank under threat, I moved a unit of cavalry into contact, to try and slow the advance down. Shooting from the Hunnic light horse caused a hit on my un-engaged cavalry.
Planning ahead, I pushed my left flank towards the hill, with the aim of destroying the small units of subject infantry on it, to give me a good defensive position should I need it. Spear armed shieldwall being attacked uphill by cavalry would be hard to shift.
As my right flank comes under extreme pressure, my left and centre advance.
Both units of cavalry somehow manage to hold on, despite an awful lot of attacks going in. Truth be told that Dave's die rolling was appalling, to the point that he even changed his die half way through the game!
My left flank continued to move forward, with my skirmishers in position to attack the subject infantry's flank.
All the action is on the flanks, with the centre un-engaged.
The attacks go in on the left flank, leaving little hope for what remains of the subject infantry.
My cavalry have done their job in holding up the Hunnic horse, allowing my infantry to offer a refused flank, which would be hard for the Huns to attack.
To add insult to injury, my skirmishers charged into a unit of Hunnic cavalry, with a Captain attached. All Dave had to do was avoid rolling a Double 1 to prevent their demise. To two red die says it all...
The final act of the game with...
...the Hunnic left flank severely depleted...
...and their right flank gone, it was game over as they had reached their Army Breakpoint.

Post Game Thoughts
Well our first 'proper' game of Sword & Spear proved to be great fun; well for me at least, but Dave may disagree! The game lasted about two hours from start to finish, which is absolutely perfect for our evenings gaming. We even had a chance to have a post game chat, which is good. I think there are quite a few points worth raising, so as always a few thoughts in no particular order:

  • "Quantity has its own quality". My force outnumbered Dave's almost 2:1. With almost all of his troops activating on a 3+, or 2+ with Commander attached, I thought it was going to be one way traffic for much of the game, as my units being 'Undrilled', are much harder to get moving, talk less of manouevering. However having almost double the number of die to roll for activation, more than offset the Hunnic mobility. I must point out that my die rolling was pretty good for once, with many 6's rolled. More games are needed to get a better feeling for what makes for a balanced game, as points wise we both felt that in the end it was in my favour. Time will tell.
  • It was nice to be able to play with the same forces again, so that we could start to get to know what works, and more importantly, what doesn't for our troops. I must say that I would have found it hard to use the Hunnic troops compared to my Anglo-Saxons, as I'm certainly comfortable with how they play. Having used them a lot in 'Dux Bellorum', they play in a very simlar manner with S&S. One good thing is that the figures, from the Pendraken Late Roman range, allow me to field anything from Late Roman troops (no sh!t Sherlock) to Middle to Late Franks and even Early Byzantine. For the latter they may not be perfect but it doesn't bother me.
  • You need a lot of die for this game. I ordered some extra die from Annie at Bad Squiddo Games for a very reasonable price. About 20 will do for each for in terms of activation with around another 8 -10 being required for combat rolls. You will also need some way of marking hits, but I use my normal 7mm die for this.
  • The Activation System really makes this game stand out, as you really have to thing when and where do I place my die, assuming that you roll well enough to be able to use them. Again my 'die superiority' gave me the edge against Dave, just using the law of averages, combined with a large doe of luck. As we said at the end of the game, Napoleon always asked if the General was lucky. On the day I certainly was.
  • It is nice to be able to play another game that is quick to pick up after only a few games and to use the QRS for most issues. We only had recourse to the rulebook a few times, that being mainly to confirm a few things we were unsure off. Of, and they have a great index at the back, which makes things VERY easy to find. Other designers please take not. 
  • The combat system is quick and easy to remember and works really well IMHO. No need to cross reference table for saves etc. This makes the game move along at a nice pace.
  • I was tempted to use a refused flank at the start of the game when deploying my troops, but in the spirit of Featherstone et al, I tried to deploy in a 'historical' manner.
  • Dave's die rolling was pretty poor right across the game, whilst mine, for once, was pretty good. This allowed my cavalry to survive longer than they should have and to give my infantry time to form up form up to protect my right flank. On another day I might have been spend time trying to play catch up at the Huns rang rings around me. 
  • One good thing with the rules is that all of the Army lists are free online. No need for endless supplements. Just buy one book and away you go. 
  • In the book it recommends using a Base Unit for movement as half that of the unit frontage. So for our 40mm units this would result in 20mm. However we found that for our evening games using 40mm as the Base Unit for movement provides for a much quicker game. If time permits, I will try the recommended size at some point, just to see what effect that has on the game.

Hopefully the above points have been useful. I really think that these are a great set of rules and highly recommend them to anyone wishing to play Ancients though to the Middle Ages. They have certainly become my ruleset of choice for these periods and as mentioned at the start, will be used for an Imagi-Nations project later on this year.


  1. Hi Steve
    Nice Report

    Take care


  2. Steve, have been looking forward to your thoughts on these. I have the rules and have watched a couple of videos - I was left with the impression that deciding upon a definite plan was difficult because the activation system might leave you with significant parts of the army unactivated.

    However, your account seems to give a sense of more control.

    I am pleased that play is not requiring constant referencing of the rules - I really must give this a go, taking your idea of a 2 x 2 to practice on ...... though I will not be getting down onto the floor, as that implies that one has to try to get back up again :-)

    1. Hi Norm,
      I think you can start out with a broad plan (which is always good, no matter what rules set) but then naturally it will evolve dpending upon your activation die and of course your opponent. "No plan survives contact" or words to that effect ring true with these rules.

      You also have to think a few phases/turns ahead. An example of which was where Dave charged his cavalry in, knowing that there was the risk of them then being attacked in the flank, subject to my activation die. His gamble didn't pay off due to my rolling two 6's in the same phase, thereby allowing my to charge into his unprotected flank.

      Definitely just grab a few units, bung them on a small table (not on the floor!) and get rolling some die. In the first games I didn't even bother with any terrain, just so it was the game mechanics and nothing else. The use of activiation die certainly make for a great and entertaining solo game. I look forward to your thoughts on the rules.

  3. Nice looking game and good planning.
    Interesting to see you successfully used 40mm Unit Widths with 40mm Base Unit for movement and ranges. Might give that a try with my mate's small Imperial Roman armies.

    1. Thanks Colin. I pays to take a balanced army so that you can cope with whatever the terrain may throw at you, as it did in this game.

  4. Interesting! Looking forward to having a go at these next week.