Saturday, 8 December 2012

Seven ancient battles in seven days background; using newer own rules

Halfway though November (2012) I realised that last year's November was solo gamers month - the 11 month of 2011.  But why not do something solo again this year?  With only a few weeks to go, I set myself a challenge to play about 4-6 loosely linked ancient battles on a 2'x2' table.  For many years, I have been interested in retracing some of the Persian King Cyrus the Great as he builds the (Achaemenid) Persian Empire.  So after reading some books and searching the internet, I came up with 7 battles to fight.  And hoping to do them over 7 days with only a short writeup for each.  So not the usual battle reports for me - just a few pictures and an overview for each battle.  The blog post became too large as I was adding pictures - even I was getting overload by the end! I have created two blog posts - this one with all the background, and another with 7 short reports and pictures.

Note: The battle reports are in another blog post.  This is just background.
The Battles

The 7 battles I chose were:
  • Cyrus Vs the Medes
  • Cyrus Vs Lydians in the Battle of Pteria
  • Cyrus Vs Lydians in the Battle of Thymbra
  • Mazares Vs Ionian Greeks
  • Cyrus Vs the Babylonians in the Battle of Opis
  • Cyrus Vs the Indians
  • Cyrus Vs the Massagetae
The Rules (small diatribe here on rules writing, feel free to skip)
I was planning on using different rules for each game but that would take too long.  And then I was going to stick with my own set that I am writing - Ancient Warrior Battles;  a sort of mashup between Rally Round the King, Justified Ancients and Bill Banks Ancients.  They take about 30-40 mins a game.
I was becoming dissatisfied with my own rules.  No surprises, happens to many rules writers.  I will write a longer post on it sometime, but I was finding it hard to remember modifiers in combat, and I wrote them!  The problem was the interactions between troops types - Loose Order Vs Close Order, Heavy armour Vs light armour etc. And the results were still a bit too random for my tastes. So I dug out another similar set I was working on last year  - converting Bill Banks' Ancients to miniatures - and used that combat system instead.  I always really really liked that combat model, and used them for some rules I wrote back in 2001.  And it worked, and it worked well.  Combat was smoother, and I tweaked the other mechanisms to fit into the same model.  And it worked too.  So now I have a much better set of rules that have evolved from Ancient Warrior Battles.  Much work was not wasted, although I thought it would be and was prepared to throw them all out.  Anyway, the rules now run faster and are easier.  The QRS fits on one page too!  Tentative title is Ancient Battlelines Clash (because in my blog, I always seem to caption every second picture as "..and then the battlelines clash", "the clash of the battlelines" etc.  I need to write the rules up properly and then will post them - which I have done - see this page.  It is basically similar to Bill Banks Ancients but with reaction tests similar to Rally Round the King to make it solo friendly.

Brief intro to how some units interact under the rules
This section gives an overview of how the rules interacted in the context of these seven games.
  • Units are either ordered, disordered or destroyed.
  • Units have a combat value for ordered and disordered states.
  • Units may also have high or low fortitude that give a +1 or -1 to the combat dice.
  • Heavy mounted unit get a charge bonus for the first turn in combat.Missile fire is 1d6, and at most can disorder a non-skirmish unit (i.e. cannot destroy units by missile fire)
Combat is a 1d6 + difference of combat values and some modifiers with results similar to Bill Banks Ancients:
  less than 0: Attacker destroyed
  0-1: Attacker disordered and retreats; if already disordered, attacker is destroyed
  2-5: Both unis disordered.  If already disordered, this has no effect on the unit
  6-7: Defender disordered and retreats; if already disordered, defender is destroyed
  greater than 7: Defender destroyed

A +1 or -1 can be significant.

The Immortals are archers with a CV of 3 (2 when disordered) but high fortitude giving a +1 in battle.
Sparabara are archers with a CV of 3 (2 when disordered) but only average fortitude.
Hoplites are CV of 5, but reduced to 2 when disordered.  They also only get disordered by archers on a firing d6 on 1, so only a small chance of disordering them on the way in.  If the Sparabara manage to inflict a "both disordered" on the first turn (1/3 chance) they then have an equal chance in future combats, else they will not last long.  If the Hoplites are disordered on the way in, they have a good chance of defeating them.
The Indian archers are CV of 2, 1 when disordered and so once the Sparabara got into close combat, they had the upper hand.  But there are more Indian Archers than Sparabara....
The horse archers were CV 1 so not great in close combat.  But they managed to inflict a lot of disorder. The trick was to get the Persian units on the flank as well as the front and gain a +2 modifier in close combat - with the horse archers on a 1 +2 on flank 3, and the disordered Sparabara on 2, the horses have a chance (here close combat represents the horse archers getting up close and personal with the infantry, rather than actually attacking in melee).
The troops
I created army lists for each force and them randomly created an army for each battle (unit selection is based on Milgamex Tactical Armies if anyone is interested, and army units loosely derived from DBM, Armati and WRG 6th army lists).  I did think about how the Persian forces may be affected from one battle to the next if they lost a key unit etc, but that was going to stretch my capacity too much, and the battles usually took place at least a year apart from one another.  So I didn't.
Achaemenid List
The Achaemenid list would be reused 7 times, here is the army list for the Persians that was used to randomly generate forces for each battle:
Required (at least one of these units must be used, and unlimited extra units)
  Heavy Cavalry
Standard (none are required, but unlimited may be acquired)
Limited (up to 2 units maximum of each Limited unit type may be acquired, and no more Limited units acquired than Required+Standard units)
  Subject Light Infantry
Sparabara units deployed must be greater than Immortal units
Heavy infantry units must be at least double the number of Heavy Cavalry units

For Thymbra, Cyrus will also have 1 camel unit, 1 missile tower and a scythed chariot.

Personal Diary
Just a short section on how I managed to play the battles in seven days.  Once the army lists and random generator was in place, it took about 1 minute to select forces and about 15 minutes to get the figures, and set them up.  I played all the games after my children had gone to bed so not that much time in between all the other non-gaming stuff going on.  But I did it!

16 November - Day 0
Decided I would run seven battles in seven days.  Did some reading and came up with the plan.
17 November-22 November
Rules Crisis. Decided to rewrite rules so project on hold.
I decided to move the Ancient Warrior Battles combat system to be more Bill Banks Ancients like.  This had flow-on effects to the rest of the game.  After a few dead ends etc, most of the actual content for the rules are the same, but combat is more streamlined and works much better, I also converted all of the test to be in the same format.  And as an added bonus, the reference sheet is one side of a A4 sheet.  And I changed the army lists and army list generator for the new rules.

23 November - Day 1
Game 1 Cyrus Vs the Medes (30 mins)

24 November - Day 2
Not much, Set the forces up for the Battle of Pteria
25 November - Day 3
Game 2 Battle of Pteria (20 mins)
Game 3 Battle of Thymbra (25 mins) - actually played this one without interruptions.

26 November - Day 4

Game 4 Mazares Vs Ionian Greeks (30 mins)

27 November - Day 5
Game 5 Cyrus Vs the Babylonians in the Battle of Opis (30 mins)

28 November - Day 6
Game 6 Cyrus Vs the Indians
Played 10 mins of Game 7 -  Cyrus Vs the Massagetae

29 November - Day 7
Game 7 -  Cyrus Vs the Massagetae finished it (remaining 20 mins)

Wow - it was fun.  And it did not take up too much time.  Always nice to do something you have been wanting to do for 15 years or so.  While it did stretch my free time a little, I am glad of it.  This November solo thing could get to be a habit.  Hopefully not a bad one.

I did some minor tweaking to the new rules as I played but 95% of the rules for the first game survived until the end.  They need more playtesting for other periods (duh) which is what I was doing with the older - Ancient Warrior Battles - set anyway.  I will debate whether I need to go back and play some chariot games again.  I probably will, I was not 100% happy with how Ancient Warrior Battles handled Chariots, but I think I have nailed it with this version. And I like chariots.  I need to go away, write up the rules properly and start some playtesting in the new year.


  1. I just nominated you for a Liebster award because lots of people need to wargame in small spaces and you're the man to help them with it!

  2. Hi Shaun,

    I am not surprised by your findings on the original AWB: I found it hard and confusing to remember how the troops worked. I've often thought a simple "here's a combat factor and movement factor: in some instances against some kinds of enemies, you modify (additive or multiplicative: whichever seems most appropriate). Terrain works the same way".

    Fast, simple, deep. I've always loved the combat system of "A House Divided". It's a Civil War strategic game, but units have one CF (a "to hit" number) that goes up and down based on terrain/target.

    I'm not a fan of "open order/heavy" etc. I prefer; HI, some shoot arrows, some chuck pila, some can ignore recoils, etc...


  3. Bevan,

    Your comments are well founded. I do remember your comments on AWB when I was struggling with the combat mechanism. I have got rid of loose/close order and light/medium/heavy armour. I went back to the inspiration of the game (Bill Banks Ancients) and now units are troop types (HI. LI, HC , LC etc) with a combat rating ranging from 1 to 5. There are no more modifiers than in Bill Banks ancients either, though they are very different. I think the game is still more complex than you would like but it is much easier than the old AWB and the game flows better. I actually went back to the rules I wrote in 2000, that AWB is an evolution of, where I have the better system and transported it into AWB. I lost my way somewhere in the last 12 years!

    I have always loved the "A House Divided" combat system as well. The original Imperium had something similar, although the remake went away from it which was a mistake IMHO. Henry Cole wrote some rules to bring back the old combat system into the new ones - that is how good such a system is!

    Thanks for the comments.

  4. Hi Shaun, good points about the complexity of the rules. I suspect they might be a bit tough for my 9-year old to keep straight. On the other hand, I really liked the classifications in B.B.A. He chose them based on the dominant battlefield behaviour. Heavy Infantry were "smashing and thumping" foot troops. Light Infantry were good at patrolling, skirmishing, and otherwise being annoying while staying away from sharp sticks and heavy blunt objects. If they surrounded you, they would cut you to pieces.

    Similarly for cavalry. Where the DBX types and me part ways is the (IMHO) overfine granularity of HI, and utter lack of granularity in LI. And of course the obtuse and hilarious "Tetris" conforming rules strain my brain and my interest (why have a continuous-free-form movement system which then morphs into a chessboard on contact?).

    One thing to consider" is whether there is a difference between the relatively mobile and lightly armoured Macedonian phalanx, and the tightly-packed, heavily-armoured Spartan hoplite phalanx. One was all but invulnerable to missile fire, the other faced a very different Persian Army (horses instead of archers) than that faced at Marathon...


  5. Bevan,

    Yes, I've always liked BBA classifications as well.

    On the hoplites Vs phalangites, I have read sources and some secondary sources and really do not know enough about the differences to make them different, especially at the high level of abstraction my game it at. I have actually spent quite a time trying to find a large differentiator that I could include. Most of the time just increasing or decreading fortitufe would be enough to highlight any differences. In my game, pike units would have about twice the men as other units, which is why they have similar missile defence as hoplites. Their effect versus other units, whether cavalry or infantry, seems to be the same so I have left them the same. I am actually more concerned how I might differentiate between the Alexander phalanx and the heavier armoured Successor phalanxes. But the two never really met and their again, there impact of other troops were the same. So I end up not differentiating them either.