Saturday, 24 July 2010

Irregular Miniatures Ancients Rules Review

I have been meaning to get these for many years but just never seemed to actually get to do it.  Until AngelBarracks announced they would be making Irregular Miniatures rules available as a pdf.  At the moment I much prefer pdf - a fast fix, I have a netbook I cart everywhere and so, as a rules junkie, I can get to them whenever.  So I got the Irregular Miniatures Fast Play Ancient rules by Ian Kay the day after they were available.  But by then I had already started planning the Callinicum Armati refight. There is not much available on the internet about these rules.  The most I could find was some discussion on TMP (all favourable).  As these rules date from at least the early 90's, it is understandable there may not be much available electronically.
The PDF differs from the 'paper' copy in that the paper copy was 7 cards with the rules (based on the turn sequence with one side the rules, the other side examples of the rule) and one sheet of paper with setup and points.  The PDF is all the rules on 18 A4 pages.  My review is based on the PDF version.

The rules are well laid out and follow the turn sequence.  There are parts of the rules that are there, just not obvious and some that are missing.  Example - what is the class type of a general?  It isn't mentioned with the description of the general but is mentioned in the class description.  Counter-charges are mentioned but no description of how to do them. No army lists or examples, no terrain placement rules and no rules for ending the game.  The biggie is that different classes use a different die (d6, d8, d10 or d12) for panic tests and casualties determination.  This mechanism is mentioned as you go in the rules but you have to piece it together (at least in the DF version anyway).   I'll mention some I find as I go.  But all of these are actually only minor quibbles. They are cheap so I don't expect the quality of rule 10 times the price. All the rules you need to play are documented, the mechanisms all have examples that really do help.  One play through got me to understand what the rules were about, although I am sure there are tactical nuances I haven't grasped yet.  I liked the way the rules worked and would play them again.

While they read a bit like WRG ancients they don't play like it at all.  There are only a few main troops types - battle, auxiliaries and skirmishers.  But there is a number of extra troop descriptions - 4 classes, regular/irregular, armour and weapons.  Units are made up of 1 to 8 'strips' (bases). Casualties result in strips loss  Each class also has associated with it a die - d6, d8, d10 or d12.  This die is used to determine casualties and also resolve panic (morale) and charge tests. So factors for missile, melee and panic tests are the same for all classes, but the higher the die, the less chance of casualties and the better chance of passing a panic test.

Each turn sees sides rolling for initiative, winner charges first, moves first; then a simultaneous missile fire phase and lastly a simultaneous melee phase.  Charges require units to roll a charge test against their class die. Missile fire only results in casualties.  The loser of melee must pass a panic test otherwise they rout. Melee in one phase can consist of up to three rounds of fighting if one side does not rout.

Army Lists
There are no army lists.  There are some examples of play which describe some unit types, but this is only enough to assist in describing a rule mechanism.  You are on your own for unit types, army composition etc.  However, there is a point system.

The rules are designed for use with Irregular Miniature 6mm strips/blocks,  It also mentions how to use with 2mm.   With only minor tweaking, the rules could be used with any size figures, so long as the basing on each side is the same.  My re-fight using these rules will be using 15mm figures and I'll explain on my battle report how I used 15mm figs.
There are two systems available to depict units - one systems uses a number of strips/blocks to make up a unit.  Casualties to units cause strips/blocks to be removed from the unit.  Strip loss also occurs from panic tests and failed charge tests.  The second system uses less figures - each unit is represented effectively by 2 strips/blocks, and strip casualties for the unit are recorded via roster sheets, casualty rings, casualty dice behind the unit etc.


There are 7 units types
  • Battle Troops - Infantry intended to fight hand to hand.  Consist of 5-8 strips (each strip is 23mm-30mm for 6mm figures)
  • Skirmishers - light troops that are not intended to fight hand to hand.  usually missile armed.  Can be infantry or cavalry or light chariots.  Consist of 1 strip that is 35mm-45mm wide.
  • Auxiliaries - cavalry, chariots and infantry that are not battle troops or skirmishers. 2-4 strips (strip width as per Battle troops)
  • Elephants. 1 strip
  • Scythed Chariots. 1 strip.
  • Artillery. 1 strip.
  • Generals - a subcommander has 1 strip, a general has 2 strips.

And two unit classifications:
  • Regular - more maneuverable, stable combat bonus
  • Irregular - can move faster and first turn melee bonus.

And 4 classes (with associated die):
  • A - elites and roll d12
  • B - veterans and roll d10
  • C- average and roll d8
  • D - raw and roll d6
The die is used to determine casualties an perform panic tests. If number of hits equals the die type, remove a strip; and also the chance of losing another strips for fractional casualties - e.g. 24 hits on a class B unit results in two strips lost and a roll of 4 or less on a d10 will remove another. Panic tests occur frequently and unit passes a panic test by rolling (on its die type) more than the number of strips lost (since the start of the game).

Armour and Weapons
Lastly, troops have armour and weapons.  The different options are buried in the point system.  but strips can be shield/shieldless,  armoured/half armoured/ arm and leg armoured/no armour.  However, although not in the point system, there are additional armaments a strip can be armed with as they exist as bonuses in the movement/missile and melee table. Examples:

Missile armed isn't mentioned, but in missile fire you can be armed with javelins, pila, crossbow, handgun, longbow, bow, sling.  So obviously these don't cost anything different but should be noted as part of the unit description.

Pikes move slower.

Lancers, long spears, pikes and two-handed weapons give combat bonuses but cost no more.  So these also form part of the unit type.

However, even though none of these arms are specifically mentioned in the troop classification, a strip armed with two types of weapons does cost +1 point.

Terrain and setup
There are no rules for deploying terrain.  Terrain effects are located in the section applicable to them e.g. missile fire into cover is -2,  moving in rough terrain or crossing obstacles is a movement penalty.
Battle units, non-skirmish cavalry and pike unit cross rough terrain suffer a strip loss (pikes suffer two losses) that is recoverable with no movement in the following turn.

A camp is required to be setup for each army to their rear.  A camp captured by the enemy and in LOS of a unit is detrimental to that units' panic tests.

There are rules for scouting based on a sides skirmisher and cavalry numbers.  If neither side is outscouted, each side deploys one unit at a time alternatively.  concealed units, or units hidden behind terrain, do not need to be placed on the table.  If one side is outscouted, the units are set out one for two alternatively, and one for three if completely outscouted.

Turn sequence
Turn sequence has initiative determined at the start of the turn.  The winner of the initiative moves first.  Missile fire is next and is simultaneous.  This is followed by simultaneous hand to hand fighting.

1. Establish initiative (side A wins)
2. Side A rout, charge moves
    Side B evade, rout, pursuit, charge move/tests
3. Side A normal moves
    Side B normal moves
4. Simultaneous missile fire
5. Simultaneous hand to hand fighting
6. Applicable strip recovery

Initiative is determined by comparing each sides initiative score.  This is the total number of unengaged units, plus a bonus for each village, wood and hill held, plus an OPTIONAL d10 roll that can be added or subtracted from the score.  Highest score wins.  So it can been seen there is room to try and position yourself to go second.

Orders are quite simple and of two parts.  Orders can only be changed by attaching the general to the unit.
Movement order is either
  • QUICK: 1/2 to full
  • SLOW: none to 1/2
Combat order is either:
  • ATTACK: always charge or counter charge
  • HOLD: attain a position and keep it
  • LURE: evade all charges except by skirmishers/auxiliary.  In the latter case can counter charge.
Panic Tests
Panic tests are fairly common in a game turn,  which usually occur when a unit
  • is trying to rally from a rout
  • sees a nearby friend routs
  • is less than 1/2 strength and loses a strip
  • loses a round of hand to hand fighting
A unit passes a panic test by rolling (on its die type) more than the number of strips lost (since the start of the game). If a unit rolls lower, it loses a strip and routs if in hand to hand fighting.  An attached commander reduces a units strip loss number by the number of strips the commander is.

Rout moves (these occur first) are at a faster rate than normal movement.  After a rout move, the unit takes a panic test and if passes, it spends the next turn rallying.  Pursuit movement is normal move + a d6.  Units must pursue is fail a panic test.  Pursuing units may instead charge a new enemy is within 30mm of rout path.

No pre-measurement before charging.  If the target unit has more strips than the charging unit, a unit must pass a charge test before charging. If it fails the test, a strip is removed and the unit halts.  If the distance is further than the units charge movement allowance, lose a strip for each 20mm further.  Although the rules mention counter charging (in a header, order restrictions, and also for factors in hand to hand fighting and even in the hand to hand fighting example is mentions one side counter charged), I can find no mention of HOW or WHEN a unit counter charges.  The rules are absent on the actual mechanism for counter charging.  If I had to make an assumption (as I did when I was playing), I would say that side B can counter charge if side A unit charges at it (in the turn sequence, Side A charges, then side B). Based on this turn sequence,  I've also then assumed that side A cannot counter charge a charge by Side B. But does the counter-charger move towards the charger?  I've assumed not.  Lastly,  of course a unit must have the right order to counter-charge.  

Skirmish and auxiliaries may evade (evade move +1d6).

If charged or charging unit is capable of applicable missile fire (charging with javelin/pila/francesca or target with any missile weapon), units are put 10mm apart and missile fire resolved in part 4 of the turn sequence.
Movement distances are different for Pikes, battle troop infantry, auxiliary infantry, the different types of skirmishers, differently armoured horses, chariots and elephants.  There is a corresponding move distance if in rough terrain.  March (column) movement is faster for infantry and cavalry.  Units can veer up to 10% when moving forwards.  Example distances are 80mm for battle troops, 100m for infantry skirmishers and 160mm for cavalry skirmishers.

Regulars can wheel 90 degrees, about face, mount/dismounts, change formation, and then make 1/2 move.
Irregulars can do what regulars do for a full move, or 1/2 move and lose a strip.

Skirmishers can interpenetrate.

There are a number of formations that a unit can use (at least if using system 1 for basing) with the most common being a line (2 units wide at a minimum).  Germans, Romans and Viking can use a wedge and get a bonus in combat.  Skirmishers can form a circle that allows all the strips to missile fire at a target. Pikes can setup in a phalanx (single column) but initially I could not see any benefit to doing so - in system 1 there probably isn't; in system 2 it allows for a lot of strips on a single strip frontage (all of a unit's strips count in melee so multiple phalanx units can have more strips on the  same frontage compared to another battle troop unit deployed in a line (minimum 2 strips wide).  All units can form up in a march column for bonus movement rates.

Missile fire
Resolved simultaneously.
Ranges are different (with some examples in parentheses) for artillery (480mm), crossbow/longbow, foot bows (240mm), mounted bows, slings, handguns and javelins/darts (45mm).
For all units firing at the same target, add up all the strips and divide by 2, rounding up.  Add some modifiers for range (3 ranges - short, medium, long), target protection, movement.  Crossbows, slings and handguns treat armoured targets as unarmoured.  There are no dice rolled to add a random element.  Missile fire does not cause panic tests - its role it to wear down the enemy with strip loss.

Casualties are removed based on class.

If 1 above the inflicted number is rolled, the unit halts next move.

Except for pre-contact fire, I found in my replay the missile score totals were quite low (3 or less and more commonly 1).  For C class units using a d8, a 2 is only a 25% chance of a strip loss, and for B classes (d10) this is only a 20% loss.  Although ranges are long, for cavalry troops moving there is usually only one or two shots, for infantry this would be closer to 4 shots. It is similar to Armati and WRG Ancients in the respect of missile fire opportunities.

Hand to Hand fighting
Nothing about how bases line up - assume corner to corner front (as per WRG 7, DBM etc).  Nothing about what happens when a two units are attacking one - how does each of them do hand to hand fighting.  I've assumed that you would simply split your total factors between the enemy nits while the enemy units would be worked out individually and then totaled.

Each unit totals their hand to hand combat score.  This is +1 for each strip left in a unit and a list of about 20 additional factors, all cumulative.  These include charging, horse troops, opponents shieldless, the armour worn, type of weapon being used, regular/irregular. As per missile fire, there is no random factor added as a die roll.  Casualties are lost based on class as per missile fire.

If the strip losses are equal, another round of hand to hand fighting occurs immediately. If one side lost more strips, it takes a panic test.  On failure it routs during next rout phase.  If it passes, another round of hand to hand fighting occurs immediately.  If three rounds of hand to hand fighting occur with neither side routing, the lower class unit moves back 40mm.  If both units are the same class, it does not indicate what happens.  In my replay, I  assumed the unit with less strips, and then the attacker.

The interesting thing is that the factor score may change depending on whether is is round 1, 2 or 3 of hand to hand fighting. Some don't change e.g. number of strips, armor worn, opponent shieldless. Others do such as irregulars charging with the initiative get +2 in the first round but nothing for subsequent rounds; regulars get nothing in the first round but +1 in the second round and +2 in the third round.  Horses only get their specific bonuses in the first round. Long spears, pikes only get a +2 bonus in the first round.

Units in hand to hand fighting can be supported by other units to the rear but this factor only kicks in in the second and third round.

Skirmisher units are only 1 strip so once in hand to hand fighting, there will be no routs - one or both side will either be eliminated or both will survive 3 rounds.

Auxiliaries and cavalry in small strip units (they can have a maximum of 4 strips) goes differently.  If one side loses a strip in a round, then it undergoes a panic test.  As this is based on strips lost, they only have to roll higher than a 1 (first loss) or a 2 (for a second loss) on their die (d8 for the common C class).  So a unit will usually pass the panic test and fights continue into another round.  After 3 rounds, it is possible for a unit to be eliminated (unlikely) or more commonly be reduced in strips, pass all panic tests and then the units separate.  So routing does not happen very often for these units either.

But, between infantry battle troops, this is where routing can happen as the starting point for the unit is 5-8 strips, and panic tests are based on the total number of strips lost, so after a few rounds (also likely spread over 2 turns) the unit will need to be rolling above a  3 or 4 or even 5 on their die.  A lot harder to pass.
So routing is more common in the clash on infantry battle lines but will take several turns.  Cavalry/Light infantry losses occur faster with elimination rather than routs, and skirmishers disappear fast if in combat.


  1. One of the first historical minis I bought was a 6mm renaissance battle set from irregular, and its accompanying rule set.
    The rules were a big surprise after Games workshop style glossy hardbacks, but so easy to read and so fun to play, even solo!

    1. Thanks Darren,

      I nearly did the same thing in the early 90s but no-one else around me was playing ancients in 6mm. I haven't played the rules in years but get them out to read every now and then as I really enjoyed the rules. I would play them again anytime if I could find an opponent. I would like to play them again solo if I did not enjoy playing with new rules.