Saturday, 3 August 2013

Ancient Battlelines Clash first face to face playtest

My first face to face playtest
Andy suggested coming over for a game today using the rules I am working on, Ancient Battlelines Clash (ABC).  It would be the first face to face playtest of the rules I have done.  There have been others out there that have provided feedback over the years but this would be the first time for me.  I have done around 20 solo games of ABC but that is not the same.

In summary, it went well.   There are a couple of changes to the layout and content of test tables to make them easier to read and I need to redo the charge/pursuit table; but the rules themselves stood up - from my point of view - really well.  We only had one game and Andy seems to think they were alright.  The big plus was that good and historical tactics won out.  And those tactics were Andy's.  He won by a lot by using much better tactics than me despite not knowing the rules (he had not read them beforehand). So the rules seem to reward good historical play, at least after one play! Andy took home a copy of the rules with him.

Something that occurred while explaining the rules
While explaining the rules to Andy, I realised that the root of these rules are (and I am generalising a bit here) Warrior Kings - now Rally Round the King - for reaction tests; Bill Bank's Ancients for combat and the way disorder works; Justified Ancients for command rolls and missile fire and Armati for restrictive movement, groups and general ethos.  Andy had read some of these rules but played none of them.  If you have played all four of these rules, it will be really easy to pick up on Ancient Battlelines Clash and what is is attempting to portray - particularly WK/RRtK for a sequence of play based on reaction tests and Bill Banks Ancients for how combat and disorder works.  If you had not played any of these, it will be just as easy as any other set of rules...

The Game
Here is a brief run down on the game - Alexandrian Macedonian Vs Later Achaemenid Persian.

I have a very formula driven excel spreadsheet to generate random armies and terrain.  But I do not have many army lists.  Most of my focus is on the Peter Side's replays.  I do have a draft Macedonian list that I quickly updated to be able to randomly create a army (I have a Later Achaemenid Persian army list).  My randomiser basically stops with the last unit that does not take the army over the defined point level.  But what that means is if the point level is defined as 35, and a 5 point unit takes the army points to 36, the army list will only have 31 points and could have had another 4 points (light infantry, skrimishers etc).  I need to fix this, which may not be easy as it is excel, not code.

Macedonian (attacker) (Andy)
1 Companions (high fortitude, disciplined)
1 Light Cavalry
2 Phalangites (phalanx)
1 Hypaspists (phalanx, high fortitude, drilled)
1 Peltasts
1 Skirmish Infantry

Later Achaemenid Persian (me)
1 Heavy Cavlary
4 Poor Heavy Cavalry (low fortitude)
2 Light Cavalry
1 Hoplite (phalanx)
1 Light Infantry
2 Skirmish Infantry

Macedonians on the left.  From their right to left, left is cavalry, pikes and the light infantry. Persians left to right is the good cavalry, LI and hoplite, poor cavalry and some light cavalry as flankers.

The Persians move the light cavalry up to flank to get at the Macedonians from the side.  Note this this turned out to be a wrong thing to do - they were too far to order properly and went too far.  They should have stayed where there were and waited - they were not faced by anyone - they did not have to move up.  Some of the Persian poor heavy cavalry move up against the Macedonian peltast and skirmisher and the Macedonians are routed. 

Macedonians move up the entire line; some Persian heavy cavalry at right is threatening the Macedonian light infantry.

A picture a little further along showing the Persians cleaning up the light infantry (to the centre right).  It was the last good tactical thing I did!

The Persian heavy cavalry with general is forced to charge the Companions. While writing this up, I have realised they they should have not been subject to mandatory charge; about 3 games ago I changed it from all heavy cavalry being subject to mandatory charge to only high fortitude and modified the impetuous ability so only impetuous units were subject to mandatory charge. Easier to say units with impetuous ability subject to mandatory charge than have to remember it is Knights, Heavy chariots, elephants and high fortitude heavy cavalry.
Persian Heavy cavalry and general in combat with Companions and the Macedonian general.
 A general loss check resulted from the combat.  Macedonians were OK, the Persians lost their general.  This made it hard for the rest of the game to order troops.
Where the Persian general was.  The replacement subcommander is required only for distance measuring for orders, otherwise it is useless!
 Persians start to move the right flanking cavalry units back closer to the action, but it is too little too late.  The Macedonians manage to destroy a hoplite, and also the heavy cavalry now the genral is not there to bolster their ranks.

Note the lack of Persian Heavy cavalry, and the hoplite in the centre doe snot last long either! Also note the high quality of Andy's painting (the Macedonians) compared to my ebay acquired Persians.
The Persians then lost one more heavy cavalry (from a hoplite), the Persians reached their breakpoint and game over.  Well deserved win to Andy.  One thing that was good explaining the rules and probabilities is that the game rules made sense in the context of what went on in ancient battles, or at least in my version of events!

The end.
 So that's it - a fun game and not too long.
Changes to the rules (for those interested)
I had a number of rows in some of the test tables with the labels "2-5", "6-7", "8+" but they all applied to the same result. I was trying to keep the tables consistent with the combat table but most other tables all have the same result for 2+.  So to un-confuse results, I can just change the "2-5", "6-7", "8+" to "2+".

I was thinking of doing this anyway, but only Infantry and Chariots are -1 to combat when disordered.  Rather than describing this under troop types in the rules, I can add this to the combat table.  It will be more obvious.

I need to add veteran and drilled and some other abilities to the quick reference chart, plus a few minor content additions to the reference chart.

I use the description of +0, +1 +2 general but really the +1, +2 enhances command and control, it does not affect the general itself, better to describe the +0, +1, +2 as command structure, rather than the general.

The biggest change is to the mandatory charge/pursuit test.  It did not sit quite right and the play with Andy confirmed I really have the fortitude modifiers back to front (high fortitude units are should be less likely to pursue).  Currently the table has 2+ for charge/pursuit and less than that no pursuit/charge.  High rolls are good in this game, and most of the time you do not want a unit to mandatory charge/pursue, so 2+ should be changed to no pursuit/charge.  The was the way it was late last year but I changed it.  I am going to change it back, but I have to think through the modifiers to make sure I don't stuff it all up!


  1. Glad that the rules held up with a live opponent. I find the idea of an excel sheet to program forces and terrain very interesting. I forgot that you had talked about this before.

  2. Yep, the rules worked exactly as I hoped they would. Of course, I like the way they play and do not expect anyone else to!

    The excel spreadsheet has become a monstrosity. It is really something that needs coding and a database. But I have not coded for a very long time and I use excel to its limits all the time at work, so it is familiar.

  3. Much of the approach to pursuit in Rally Round the King works well -- a defender will pursue if rolling > reputation, so poorer quality units are more likely to pursue; an attacker pursues if <= reputation, so better quality units are more likely to keep going. I think they should have also applied the defender/attacker principle to 'continuing melee'.

    Modifiers such as orders and position (eg, "hold the hill" at Hastings) and impetuousness should also count in the pursuit test.

    The more ‘tests’ on units, the less micromanagement – but that seems quite realistic. You can set your troops off, but it’s much harder to control them after that. RRTK is quite strong on that and I can see how many miniatures wargamers do not like that, wanting to micromanage individual units!

    Have you tried your ABC rules with Cannae? I find that battles like Cannae (to simulate the pushback of the Carthaginian centre allowing time for the cavalry battles, infantry flanking, encirclement); Hastings (with waves of attacks, retreats and rallying; chance of pursuits and ordered counterattacks); and any battles with hit-and-run horse archer tactics, to be great tests of rules.

  4. i do like the pursuit rules from RRtK. In fact, the first real version of the rules I did in 2011 just copied the pursuit rules from Warrior Kings until I came up with something else! It did not sit well with the rest of the game, as it stood out as applying a different mechanism, besides it being blatant plagiarism! So I changed it. Along the way somewhere I have streamlined to not be in line with what I want.

    I have not tried ABC with Cannae, but did have Cannae in mind while designing it e.g. successful flanking cavalry take a while to come back into the game, especially if they pursue, and the legion Vs Gauls should allow for pushbacks and encirclement. Hastings is one I am not as familiar with but will test out. I did do a horse archer battle last year and it seemed to work ok; but that, and a string of battles at the same time, led to to the latest revision that seems to have held up well (except pursuit!). I need to go back and test out horse archers, biblical light chariots and dark age. I am doing historical battle replays in a chronological order, but am tempted to skip about a little to test the rules over a wide spread of history.

    RRtK does work well for all the points you mention. Something to aspire to. I am trying to get to the same place but with faster, and possibly less complex, rules on a 2'x2' table.

    Thanks David for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.