Friday, 12 November 2010

Post Callinicum: Which ruleset is the best?

I believe I have had enough of Callinicum as a battle.  I managed to try out 10 different rulesets with this battle before wanting to try another battle. As a reminder, the goal was to look at rulesets that gave a good ancients game in under an hour on a 2'x2' table.  Some of the ones I used passed, some didn't.  The definition of best of course depends on the person.  These are my views but I have tried to throw in some objective points as well.

I am not a big solo wargamer.  I much prefer face to face.  But I love reading and figuring out rules.  I also love historical battles.  So this has been an interesting experience - I get to refight a historical battle, and I get to really discover how some of the rules I own work.  And solo seems ok for this. I am not sure I could ever solo play only for the sake of playing a game.  I think, and least for the near term, I will continue to need an ancillary aim - refights, rule discovery, writing my own rules etc. 

The 10 I tried were
  • Armati
  • Warrior Kings
  • Justified Ancients
  • Fantasy Rules!TCE
  • Irregular Miniatures Ancients Rules
  • Mighty Armies: Ancients
  • Basic Impetus
  • DBA
  • DBM100
  • Bill Bank's Ancients

I created a webpage with links to the various battle reports.

The rules to try first
The number one ruleset I would recommend for anyone to try is DBA.  Yes, I know I wrote I am not fond of DBA.  They fit the bill perfectly, which makes sense as they were designed to play a game in less than one hour on a 2'x'2' board.  The game has a large following, the rules (despite the issues some people have with Barkerese) are comprehensive and give a good and challenging game.   So, if you are looking for a quick small game ruleset, try DBA first.  I did try DBA with a Inferior superior modification to see if it made it better for me but it didn't really.  Stick to vanilla DBA.

Number one on my list
The rules I enjoyed the most and highly recommend is Warrior Kings. This is my ruleset of choice and am looking forward to playing lots more games with it. I did make one change to make it play on 2'x2' - I changed the distances from inches to centimetres.  It is about to be released imminently again as Rally Round the King.  Well, sort of re-release. [this next section has been updated based on feedback] Ownership of the rules was acquired by John P Kelly, who made the rules available on the Warrior Kings yahoo group and recently released the final version 2 of the rules (heavily updated from version 1).  Meanwhile, back at Two Hour Wargames, Warrior Heroes was the fantasy version of Warrior Kings, now also out of print.  Warrior Heroes, without the fantasy elements, was exactly Warrior Kings.  Rally Round the King is the re-release, and updated, version of Warrior Heroes.  Warrior Kings is fast, fun, matches my view of historical outcomes, and is also unpredictable enough it creates (for me) the friction of war and limited control over what your troops will do..  It is also the most suitable of all the rules I tried for solo play..  Love it.  If you are a control freak, don't play this ruleset - or actually any rules from Two Hour Wargames ;-)

The rest, all still good
The other rulesets were all fun to play.  The choice of which one to play is really down to personal choice.  There are good bits and bad bits to all of the rules.  Here they are in roughly the order of how I enjoyed them (best first).

Irregular Miniatures
Was the most fun after Warrior Kings.  Although it uses different die sizes (d6, d8, d10, d12) to represent troop grades, and I am not a fan of this, it was really fun.  It does have a point system but no army lists at all.  There are gaps in the rules, assumes some knowledge of ancients gaming but nevertheless, I would play this again and again.  I used system one (number of stands represents the unit size e.g. a 5 stand unit has 5 stands).  I think system 2 (units set size and track casualties, e.g. the 5 stand unit is made up of 1 stand that can take 5 hits) would have too many units to make the game last under one hour (only an assumption - maybe not).
Fantasy Rules!TCE
These were also surprising.  Although maybe not so much as the game is touted as being rooted in historical concepts with fantasy elements added. And it forms the basis for the historical Days of Knights  rules from the same company (Chipco Games).  I found it gave a great game.  There are no historical army lists as such, but in TCE these could be generated using the army creation system; just leave off the fantasy elements.  I would play these rules again too, but did prefer the Irregular Miniature rules.

Mighty Armies: Ancients
This was the fastest of all the games - combat always results in at least a stand being eliminated, and between groups of stands at least 1d6 stands being eliminated.  It seems to have very little support, few historical army lists and you should use the revised combat dice roll system from the forums (for combat use all front ranks values and all rear support values (rather than lead fighter values and rest support)).  But I got a lot of hits on the replay. There were tactical subtleties that came from playing that were not evident just reading the rules (most rules have this but I was pleasantly surprised by MAA).  Not a set to be underestimated to produce a fun and fast game.  I would play these again too.

DBM100 produced a fine game, and as expected, it like playing a full size DBM game but you are only looking after one command.  It does play differently to DBA (as expected).  If you like DBA, you are unlikely to like DBM (and there is commentary scattered over the web that supports this).  I thought DBM100 was fine and I am sure if you like DBMM, DBMM100 would be a great fast game too.  However, since finding Armati in 1998, DBM just doesn't do it for me anymore.  For DBM players who are familiar with and love DBM, I would say give DBM100 a go first (over other rules mentioned) if you are looking to scale down time and board size to less than 1 hour and 2'x2'.

Justified Ancients
Not well written or a great layout, no terrain system, no points, no army lists.  Just the core of a rules system with some nice mechanics.  And I think it is improved with some houserules put together by John Davis. I had high hopes but I didn't enjoy the games as much as I thought I would.  With a few tweaks I could get a really good game system out of it that matched my ideal.  It is designed for 2'x2' and under 1 hour, and achieves this.  The core rules are fine and I think the house rules are a good add on (probably mandatory).  It is worth trying them out - there is a decent game in there.  If you like well written rules with no ambiguity and nice pictures, these rules are not for you.  I would be willing to try again, and even more so with just a couple more house rules.

The ones that didn't work
The three rulesets that I found did not lend themselves to less than one hour or 2'x'2' play were:
  • Armati. This played too long on a 2'x'2' table, otherwise, still my favourite ruleset on a 3'x2' board using Intro rules.
  • Basic Impetus.  This gave a game in under an hour, but really needs a board size of 3'x2' or 4'x2'.
  • Bill Banks Ancients.  Better as a boardgame, it does need a little bit of work to translate to miniatures.
Rule mechanism comparisons
This was supposed be be a short section and got a bit long.  So documenting the various ruleset mechanisms is found in this post. Note this is more of a mechanics listing that a comparative study.

Using Google Analytics, the most popular refight viewed was Basic Impetus by far.  This was followed, in order of views, by Mighty Armies:Ancients, Warrior Kings, Justified Ancients, Irregular Miniatures Ancient Rules and Fantasy Rules.  The other refights have only been up a short while and also have less hits than the ones listed.
What next?
As Callinicum was a mostly cavalry battle, I want to retry some of the rules (and try out some ones I didn't get around to with Callinicum) on an infantry battle.  Callinicum was the battle selected for the Society of Ancients 2009 Battle Day.  The 2010 Battle Day selection was Zama.   A classical battle from the 2nd Punic War.  Infantry, Romans, Elephants, less missile-armed troops (every unit in Callinicum is missile armed) and bit of cavalry on the flanks.  A change from Callinicum and a chance to try out other parts of the selected rules.  Zama it is.  We will see how I go and how many rulesets I get though with Zama.  The ones I will use again are Warrior Kings (or likely Rally Round the King -it should be out days after this post), Irregular Miniatures and Mighty Armies Ancients.  I may use Justified Ancients with a couple of the changes I suggested. Haven't thought about which other ones to use but I have a dozen of so in my list that I didn't use with Callinicum.  See you all in North Africa.


  1. I am pretty sure you know it, but maybe your readers do not. "Warrior Kings" is not out of print, per se. It was sold to a private owner who makes them freely available on his Yahoo forum (WarriorKings, IIRC). They are much more detailed than the original, but the latter can also be found in the files of that forum.

    I too am looking forward to the new Rally Round the King. I was not fond of the combat mechanism of WK, so I am looking forward to seeing if RRtK is any better. If not, I think a cross between your favorite element-based combat system and the command & control rules of WK/RRtK would be just about right.

  2. Dale,

    You are absolutely right, The WK yahoo group is where I got my copy of Warrior Kings from, and the owner of Warrior Kings recently released the final version 2 of the rules. I will update my post as it is misleading, and unfair to John P Kelly (the current owner of Warrior Kings).