I suppose my first foray into the World of Ancients gaming came in the form of Airfix Romans vs Ancient Britons sometime in the early 1970's. The rules we used, if you can call them that, were very basic and I'm not sure where they came from, but most likely owed homage to the Airfix wargames rules. The games were incredibly simple with little tactics (if we even understood what that meant!) but we had fun and I still have happy memories of this time.
Over the years since then I dipped in and out of Ancients gaming, dabbling with Warmaster Ancients, Hail Caesar! (very disappointed), Sword & Spear, To The Strongest, Dux Bellorum and even DBA. Some promised much and sort of delivered, but none ever really grabbed me for a whole host of reasons. One of the issues to be honest is that I'm not a dyed in the wool Ancients gamers. WWII is my thing alongside (now) the 18thC and mid 19thC periods in Europe. In short what I really want is a simple set of rules that allows me to scratch that Ancients itch when I get it.
This itch came back whilst watching 'Troy' on Netflix a few weeks ago, as it's a visually spectacular film and I love the Myrmidons storming onto the beach in advance of the rest of the Greeks. With the lockdown in full swing and having plenty of time on my hands, I went though my library and picked out 'The Portable Wargame' and 'Ancients & Medieval Wargames' for a read. Both titles impressed me as it's been some time since I read them, especially the latter.
I resolved to try and get a few games in to compare these rules and see if they could into add salve to my periodic itch when required. After several attempts I finally managed a couple of very simple games today. Nothing fancy, just enough to allow me to get a flavour of the rules. I dug out my old Dux Bellorum armies and my 2' x 2' board, already marked up with a grid for 'The Portable Wargame'. Some terrain was added and I was ready to go.
|Some of the rules in my collection, two of which made the cut for today's game. Note I discounted 'Lion Rampant' as it is more of a skirmish game and I do enjoy playing it, so it had already made the cut as it were.|
The Portable Wargame & Developing The Portable Wargame by Bob Cordery
I hadn't played the Ancients version contained in 'Developing The Portable Wargame', but had played the 19thC rules before, so was broadly aware of the core concepts of the rules. I took some 'photos of the game just to give an idea of what I was playing with etc. Some things to note:
- I used the solo card activation system contained in the original rulebook. This works nicely and could easily be transfered across other rulesets. Alternatively you could use the DBA PIP system or an Average Die to see how many units can go each Turn.
- Each side had 8 units, with one side having a unit of cavalry, otherwise they were essentially the same.
I'll let the 'photos give an idea of how things went, then talk about the rules themselves.
|Both sides push their light infantry forward on the wings and try to gain the small hamlet, to give them a strong position to anchor their position.|
|The priests with the cross are the 'command unit' which adds bonuses to the die rolls for attacks.|
|Trying to maintain a battleline is not easy, but I wanted to get to grips with the action so rushed things a bit.|
|Both sides almost ready for combat.|
|Combat is joined and the melee develops in and around the hamlet.|
|Both sides start taking hits.|
|The 'Viking' leader with the red die and 'Gandalf' is done for and ready to leave the table.|
|A swirling mass of troops with little cohesion.|
|Both sides have units close the breaking.|
A nice and quick game that gave me the feedback that I wanted. A few thoughts on the rules:
- The original book (The Portable Wargame) doesn't contain the Ancients rules and I feel you need this plus 'Developing The Portable Wargame' to get the most out of the rules. Both books contain plenty of additional material as well as rules for Colonial and WWII games. They are a great read, have plenty of ideas and are worth getting IMHO.
- I like the card activation for solo play and they work really well for these rules. As mentioned above I would like to try them with some other rules.
- The rules are elegantly simple and give a good game. I did find I was having to make some 'common sense' decisions at certain points, but that could be due to my not being fully conversant with the rules. It didn't detract from the game which is good.
- Playing on a 2'x 2' board worked perfectly well and gave plenty of room for manouevre. With a cloth games mat marked with a grid and some top down counters, this is truly a portable set of rules, so perfect for those that travel a lot or want to take a game on holiday with them.
- I found just using one die to resolve shooting and combat a bit strange and di wonder whether this left too much to chance. However I think the morale phase helps off set this.
- The game was quick and even with some thought and tactics, probably would only have taken an hour to play out.
- Using a gridded board is not for everyone, but it does keep things simple, which is nice. I've played 'To the Strongest' which uses a grd as well, but this felt an easier game to play for me. If you were more of a dedicated Ancients player, the TtS would certainly be better.
Ancient & Medieval Wargaming by Neil Thomas
Having finished with 'The Portable Wargame', it was onto the next set of rules to try, with the same units and board layout. I decided to try using an Average Die to decide how many units can go each Turn, rather than the DBA PIP system which I've used before, as it tends to even things out on the activation front. So once again the 'photos will give you an idea of the action.
|Both sides once again had light infantry on their flanks and pushed forward to try and control the hamlet.|
|Some units were left behind in the hurry to close with the enemy.|
|Light infantry by the pond have kept the cavalry back by their effective archery. In the centre combat is well and truly joined.|
|The fighting is fierce and units with red die have lost a 'base' and a corresponding attack die. So units with a red 3 are close to breaking as a unit consists of 4 bases.|
|The combat again breaks up into a confused melee.|
|Light infantry are caught in the hamet and suffer for it.|
|Light infantry fight on the flank as things get close in the centre.|
Yet again another quick game that gave me the information I wanted and as before some thoughts on the rules:
- I used the Classical rules for this game and went with fairly generic troop types. I didn't want anything too tough to make it a drawn out affair. This worked perfectly.
- The Average Die worked as well as the solo card activation from the previous game. The downside with the cards is that you can get a run of cards against you that could turn the game. Only time will tell which works best for me.
- The game felt more traditional as the movement was more fluid as you were not restricted by a grid. Also throwing more die and using a tape measure had that feeling of familiarity.
- The rules worked really well and were very easy to pick up, but I need to make a QRS for the period being played.
- In the game Skirmishers were actually useful, which is not something you can say for all rulests. Don't let them get attacked in the flank though as it's not going to end well!
- Again a 2' x 2' table worked perfectly well and didn't fel small.
- The rules are designed for base removal, but they worked OK with my single bases and using die to mark hits etc. However it is easy to forget to reduce the number of attack die if you don't look at the red base loss die I used. Mea culpa.
- The morale system works well and units can degrade very quickly, which helps avoid drawn out combats.
- Neil Thomas sets out his stall with these rules, so it's nice to understand what he's trying to do. Also you get 4 sets of rules (Biblical, Classical, Dark Ages and Medieval) as well as 'Army Lists' all in one book. Frankly what's not to like.
Post Game Thoughts
After a nice hour or so of gaming, what did I think in the end and did either set give me what I was hoping for?
- Honestly both sets of rules give a good, solid and simple game. I'm sure more experienced 'Ancients' gamers might disagree, but for me they work, which is the most important thing.
- 'Less is More'. Having read Dux Bellorum before these games, I was struck but how 'detailed' they seem to me now, when at the time I really enjoyed playing them. Now I no longer feel the need for such 'detail' and prefer an elegant simplicity to my rules, which allow me some latitude in the game, rather than having to refer to countless diagrams, text etc. A dose of common sense or 'house rules' is enough for me. On this front both rulesets work.
- 'The Portable Wargame' has less troop types, but this could be remedied of required and is not bad thing. Keeping things simple is very much what I'm after. However I think the 'A&M' rules have the edge as they cover a greater period and thus troop types, which for someone like myself, would be perfect for some ImagiNations gaming.
- The 'A&M' book again has the added advantage of 4 sets of rules and 'Army Lists' all together, so no more endless supplements, which is something I hate.
It probably won't come as a surprise that the 'A&M' book gives me exactly what I want, with the added benefit that I can go from the earliest armies almost all the way through to the Italian Wars, with only some slight tweaks to the rules. This is a big bonus as you can imagine as it allows me to concentrate on the game rather than the rules.
So next up is a comparison of some rules for the Pike & Shotte period. I have some contenders to try out, but need to do some reading first. So until next time...