Monday, November 8, 2010

Callinicum refight with Bill Bank's Ancients

Background
I've always been fascinated with Bill Banks Ancients board game - it is designed to fast play numerous ancient and medieval battles.  I haven't played it as much as I would like.  I have done various tweaks to it over the last 10 years for so - mostly command and control and movement restrictions.  It has been available for free for several years from Mike Nagel's original website, which is now downloadable from the  Ancients Battle Deluxe website.

The other good place to look for information on the game is at boardgamegeek.

There are variants, notably the recent Ancients Battle Deluxe (and stuff at its predecessor site that can be found there) and Hex Command Ancients. Both, IMHO, change the game too much - adding in command and control (similar to DBA, the system of CnC  I like the least), more rules, and change the way combat works. Both are very unlike the original - based on the idea, but gone a long way from it. Both do seem like good, and possibly great, games in their own right - they just don't seem to capture the simplicity flavour of the original.   I actually like the original CRT - it is simple but it generates lots of tactical options. I have tried options to create more granular outcomes (more odds columns, using the d12 variant) but keep coming back to the original CRT - it really does drive lots of tactics.  The only other changes I had considered with was adding more Armati like Command and Control and movement restrictions.

For for information of the Battle of Callinicum see my previous post.

 
Overview
If you are new to the rules, and have no idea what they are, Bill Bank's Ancients is a boardgame allowing you to replay 64 ancient battles.  It is a hex and counter game. Each side will have about 10-20 counters and the game will be over is under a hour.
 
Here are about 10 unit types with a printed strength, movement distance and missile capability (A which is good, B which is ok, or none). Each unit has two values (front and back sides) - full strength and disordered.  A unit that is disordered twice is destroyed.   The strength of a disordered unit varies with unit type e.g. a phalanx is strength 6 but disordered is 2; a heavy infantry unit is strength 4, but disordered 3, heavy cavalry is strength 4 and disordered 2, light units are strength 2 and disordered 2.  Disordering happens a lot so the differing reduction is strength is an important consideration. 
 
High level turn sequence is:
Player A moves
Player B missile fires
Player A performs combat
Player A rallies
Player B now goes  and follows the same activity order as player A
 
There are 6 turns in a game.
 
Movement points varies from 1 for Phalanx, 2 for most heavy infantry, 3 for light infantry, 5 for heavy cavalry and 6 for light cavalry.  Movement restrictions are few - 1 point to turn 60 degrees.  Can about face for 1 movement point too.
 
Missile fire is deadly - an A class unit (heavy foot archers and camps) can fire out to 3 hexes. Chances to hit reduce with range.  Infantry is harder to hit than Cavalry.  A hit results in disordering the target; if already disordered it is destroyed.  A range 1, cavalry is hit on a 1-4!  B class (light infantry) has less of a chance to hit and only goes out 2 hexes.
 
Combat is optional and is between single units.  However, and enemy unit can be attacked many times if there are multiple units that can attack.  However, each combat is resolved individually.  Combat is simply to work out the ratio of attacker versus defender and roll a die on the CRT.  The CRT has only 4 columns - 1-2, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1.
There are only 3 results - Melee (M), Attacker Disordered (AD), Defender Disordered(DD) .  For AD and DD the appropriate unit is disordered, if already disordered, it is destroyed.  Melee is a little different - each of the two units in combat are disordered if not already.  So if disordered, just stay disordered - you are not destroyed.   There is no 'no effect' result (although if disordered, a Melee result is effectively no effect). on a 1-1, a 1 is AD, 2-5 is M and 6 is DD so even 1-1 will disorder an enemy if not already. And possibly reduce his strength, so another adjacent unit can attack at 2-1 and hope for a DD result. 
Even though simple, the CRT does reward tactical play and does create a simple game.  There are a few modifiers to a units strength which either double or half it.  These are cumulative so a strength 4 unit doubled twice is 64 (4x4x4).  The main modifiers are leader in combat (a double), phalanx Vs cavalry (a double for the phalanx) and terrain effects.
 
Which brings us to leaders - leaders are conceptually represented.  A side will have 1 to 3 leaders.  Leaders are removed at the start of movement, and then placed at the end of movement wherever you wish.  They stay there until the player has their move again.  So the other player gets to missile fire and melee against leaders.  Leaders double in combat.  Leaders will also automatically undisorder any unit they are with in the player's rally phase.  There is no other rally available.  So leaders are important to a) create advantages in combat and b) ger rid of critical disorder.  They are killed if the unit they are with is disordered and you subsequently roll a 1.  So they are a bit fragile.  Using leaders is a critical tactical part of the game. 

Rule conversion from hexes
The game is hex based.  I will not be playing with hexes.  I simply converted movement points into basewidths, so a move of 2 is 80cm. Units can wheel as much as they want but the distance wheeled is taken off the movement allowance.  A unit can about face for 1MP (as in the rules)  Units do not have to line up corner to corner for melee, contact is sufficient.  In the game, even if a unit was contacted (in the adjacent hex) it could still missile fire rather than melee.  I used optional rules 5.1 Zones of control (cannot leave ZOC and then combat another unit) and 5.12 missile units (missile units can move and fire).

Troops
I gave all the cavalry B missile capability if not disordered. This is based on the Byzantine scenarios in the game. This may make the game very missile focused, we will see. Note from after the game: it did slightly, but not enough I would not change it if playing again.

I also resisted implementing any house rules. I was tempted to make the elite cavalry 6-5 rather than 4-5 but this is changing the game's basic units.  It also means the non-elite cavalry would combat at 1-2 odds, which is not great.  The elite could be represented by putting the leader with them (although leaders do move).  So, I left all the cavalry as 4-5.  The Skutatoi is a 3A2, the light infantry a 2B3 and all light cavalry 2-6.

Persians
9x 4B5 (B only if not disordered)
3x 2B6
2x leaders

Panic:21

Byzantines
3x 3A2
6x 4B5 (B only if not disordered)
1x 2B3
3x 2B6
2x leaders

Panic: 21 

Based panic on the scenarios where it seems to be add up all combat values and divide by 2.

Deployment
As per other refights.  See here.

Deployment - Persians on the left

The extra unit behind a stand is a leader.

Turn 1

Persians
Advance the light cavalry and the central heavy cavalry, leave the right flank heavy cavalry in reserve.  Need to focus of this flank as it is the best chance to gain an advantage.

Byzantines
Advanced the Skutatoi and the heavy cavalry to their right in support.  This is where the Byzantines may be able to get an advantage.

Turn 2

Persians
Remembered that you don't have to move each stand in the group, so charged two heavy cavalry into the two heavy cavalry next the the Skutatoi and 2 Lakhmid light cavalry into 2 Ghassanid light cavalry. Made sure there were overlaps so the 2 stands could attack one stand.

Placed the leaders where these two combats would happen.

...and then I did the Byzantine missile fire.  Forgot how decisive it is. Against the Persian heavy cavalry with a leader, the first Byzantine heavy cavalry fire needs a 1-3! Hits and the heavy cavalry with the leader is disordered. Leader is ok.  Second heavy cavalry hits too.  Heavy cavalry is destroyed.  Leader rolls a 1 and is destroyed too.  There is no advance for the Byzantines as it is only missile fire.

On the other front, the two Ghassanids light cavalry can fire on the Lakhmids.  Also need a 1-3.  Both miss;  and thus the rolls balance themselves out.

In combat, the remaining heavy cavalry are both disordered (M on 1-1 column), a Ghassanid light cavalry is eliminated by firstly a M result on the 2-1 and then on a DD result.  The Lakhmid that caused the DD (not the one with the leader) should advance.

Found an issue with  the conversion from hexes to minis and not using front edge lineups - the light cavalry that should advance is also in front edge contact with another light cavalry.  In the hex game, a unit can have 3 units to its front (so can be attacked three times from the front) while in the minis game it will only be two. So far not to much of an issue.  But when a unit is destroyed, the unit that causes the elimination should advance.  In hexland, there other (up to) two units alongside do not block the advance. And neither do any opposing units neighbouring the destroyed unit.  But in minis, if you overlap, you are likely to have a enemy unit still in contact with you front if you destroy its neighbour.  So what to do about the advance?  Well, in this case I am going to advance the light cavalry with the leader.  This may work and seem ok for this combat, but I can imagine times it will not work.  Something to work on and keep unresolved for now.


The Persian left flank after advancing the light cavalry.

The CRT is very easy to remember, especially as I have been using this game for over 10 years.  Actually I believe the tables (melee and missile CRT) would be easier to remember than the DBA combat results.
In the rally phase, rallied the Lakhmid light cavalry with the general.

Byzantine
Byzantines do a general advance and a couple of flank of some cavalry.  The Isaurian infantry and a light cavalry gang up on a single Persian light cavalry.  Leaders are placed with the heavy cavalry in the middle.

 The clash of the heavy cavalry from the Byzantine side Disorder is represented by a green bush behind the unit.

Persians missile fire - any unit with missile fire capability can fire even if in contact.  Call it abstract or whatever but this is as per the boardgame - any missile fire can occur against opposing units.
There are a lot of opportunities for disorder - 6 B class at cavalry at range 1 will DD on a 1-3.  The Persians inflicted nothing.  The fortunes of war.

The trick for combat is to gang up on a unit - if you have two possible 1-1 attack, with the first one you are likely to both be disordered.  But the enemy unit will now be at 2-1 with the second attacker and will have a 2/3rds chance of a DD which will destroy the disordered unit.

Combat is optional so not to force units.

The Byzantine rolled a few ones and 2 which wasn't great but did manage to destroy two cavalry units.

Turn 3

Persians
The Persians moved units where possible to have a front facing unit, and a flank unit (that will be at 2-1).  The leader was placed with a cavalry unit in the centre, in case it was disordered during missile fire (of course, there is a chance the leader will die too).  The Persian cavalry facing the Skutatoi remained in place.  They are at range 3 of the Skutatoi which is a 1 in 6 chance of a hit.  If they moved up into contact, the Persians would suffer a DD on a 1-4.  Not good.

The clash in the centre again.  Things not looking good for the Persians.


Byzantine missile fire destroys a light cavalry (two DD results), the existing disordered cavalry in the centre, and the Skutatoi manage to disorder a unit.  The Persians are close to their panic score (currently 18) but luckily panic is determined at the start of a player turn.

Persians combat resulted in a destroyed heavy cavalry.

Byzantines
Losses are only a 6 for the panic check - much better than the Persians.  They are also in a much better position.
Wow!  forgot how much a unit can move.  A heavy cavalry has 5MP or 20 cm.  With unrestricted wheels.  Basically the Byzantines surround the Persian cavalry in the centre.  Leaders are placed with the heavy cavalry that could receive fire.

Persian missile fire scores two DD results on one of the heavy cavalry with the leader.  Leader saves both times, but now the leader is alone in front on the units.

In combat a Persian heavy cavalry is destroyed via two DD results.  A Lakhmid light cavalry is destroyed via a 2-1 attack in the rear and the Byzantines rolling a 6 (DE).

The centre again showing the Persians surrounded by Byzantine units.

Turn 4

Persians
Persians losses are 28 and so panic. All 4 (!) remaining are disordered if not already and move directly away from the enemy to the nearest map edge.  The light cavalry go off the map.  The heavy cavalry facing the Skutatoi are on the edge of the board.  The Byzantine leader on its own is safe as no unit can move and capture him.

I do not believe the Persians can recover enough to win any more victory points.  The Byzantines have 2 victory points so far - causing panic (1 victory point) and having 2x (and more) combat points on the map.  The Persians have 0 victory points.  I think playing for 2 more turns would not change the victory points.  We can call it a clear win for the Byzantines.


Verdict
A fun game, even if subjectively unhistorical.  Units move so fast. It is easier to picture on cardboard.  Anyway, I had a good time with the rules.  I think the CRT is brilliant - it is well balanced and not heavily weighed to one side.  The way the leaders are implemented is great,  and the simple halving and doubling for combat is easy to do.  If I had to convert it to a minis game, I would put in some sort of command and control, and reduce the movement distances. Otherwise, leave everything the way it is.

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