Monday, 12 December 2011

Hydaspes replay and comparison with 4 fast play rules

I replayed the Battle of Hydaspes on a 2'x2' board using four different rulesets and compared how they went.  The rulesets used:
  • Rally Round the King
  • Justified Ancients
  • Fast Ancient Battles - my miniatures version of Bill Bank's Ancients board game
  • "Ancient Warrior Battles" - my homebrew solo friendly ruleset based on concepts in the above three.
WARNING: This post is the Hydaspes troop definition and deployment plus the rules discussion and DOES NOT contain battle reports.  It is longish - half is troop types, deployment and strategy and the other half comparing the mechanisms of the rules in the context of the replays.  I am writing up the battles and will post links to them here when done.

As part of Solo appreciation month - November 2011 - I thought I would quickly run through a historical replay with a few of my current favourite fast play ancient rules on a 2'x2' board. The first historical battle I ever played (non-solo) was the Battle of Hydaspes in 1995 using DBM and the Peter Sides scenario booklet as a guide. It was extremely fun.  In 1997 or so, I played Hydaspes with Bill Banks Ancients (BBA) (there is an overview, and battle report with BBA here), and it was also great fun. I then played it with DBA, and it was not so much fun. And then with Intro Armati (one of my favourite rules) on a 2'x2' board - fun but not fast.  This started me down the path of trying to write a set of fast play miniature rules that played on a 2'x2' table and was loosely based on BBA.  I have only recently got to a stage where I am happy with the current draft of the rules I have written.  In the meantime, a few years ago, I started searching for a set of fast play ancients rules for playing on a 2'x2' table.  My current favourites from the range of published rules are Rally Round the King and Justified Ancients (the latter with some of my house rules). It has been 16 years since I've played Hydaspes; as it got me started on the journey of small table play, why not replay it with the current crop of rules in the toolkit?  So I have.  But rather than just using the two mentioned, I will also play with my current draft of Fast Ancient Battles rules (FAB) - it is similar enough to BBA that if you know BBA you will get how FAB works.
Three is never enough so there is a fourth I am using. All except RRtK are not designed for solo play and I really like the elegance of some mechanisms in JA and FAB. So I took my Fast Ancient Battles, added in from Justified Ancients the order concept and close combat results, and then integrated it with the concept of reaction tables for firing, charging and proximity from RRtK (although the reactions results are different as they align to FAB and JA).  While it may sound like Frankenstein's monster, it is not really a collection of mechanisms from different rules bolted together, but really an integrated ruleset built from the ground up using concepts from the three other rules, rather than simply knocking it all together.  The working title is Ancient Warrior Battles.  I've played a few games with it already and am still tinkering but it is close to finishing.  I will use these four rules and compare them to each other in the post.  I bit like what I did here after the Callinicum replays.
The Battle of Hydaspes was fought when Alexander the Great reached the Indian subcontinent and brought to battle King Porus.  It was a long and close fight.  The Wikipedia entry has a decent write up of the battle.  I am going to be guided by the Peter Sides Hydaspes scenario for deployment.  Troop types will be influenced by the scenario description and also the army lists for the rules.
Rules Used
Rally Round the King (RRtK)
Fantastic ruleset, great for solo play.  Read a great review here.  Buy it here.  Most popular replay I've ever posted here.  I tend to play with the original Warrior King rules (read my review and also a replay) that are mostly similar, but I replace the Warrior Kings reaction tables with those from RRtK.  For a 2'x2' table, I reduce the distances and move rates by about a third.
Justified Ancients (JA)
Have gone through various like/love/ambivalent phases with these rules - the mechanisms are so simple and yet very elegant.  However, I've ended up with some house rules and clarifications that have propelled JA to be up there with RRtK for my fast play fun on 2'x2'.  Here are two replays of Heraclea with JA: replay 1; replay 2.

Fast Ancient Battles
Bill Bank's Ancients is a great simple Ancients board game.  Out of print but there is a new much improved version out there, but it is a different game to the original.  They are both good but I happen to prefer the simplicity of the original.  Fast Ancient Battles is an interpretation of BBA into miniatures.  It is similar, except mounted units have a charge bonus rather than large combat values, the odds-based CRT is replaced with the JP Kelly proposed die roll rule (works similar to the CRT but instead of  halving and doubling and comparing odds, add or subtract 2 to a die roll with this result: -1 or less=AE, 1=AD, 2-5=M, 6=DD, 8+=DE).  If you know BBA, FAB plays very similar. There is an overview and a replay of Callinicum I did using BBA here.

Ancient Warrior Battles
Movement in basewidths, troops classified similar to BBA but also have light, medium, heavy armour and close, loose, skirmish order as per JA.  Orders are rolled for and given to groups or individual units.  Units are either disordered or depleted or destroyed (as per JA).  If fired-on, a unit undertakes a test to see if disordered or depleted and if they evade or retreat.  Units charged take a test to see if they evade or retreat.  A unit may need to take a proximity test if an enemy gets close (similar to enemy threat in RRtK).  Melee results are similar to JA. Units test for pursuit.  A solo friendly version of JA. Have only played a few times with them so needs a bit more testing.
Luckily the deployment and bases in each game will be the same.  Each base is 40mm wide with 15mm miniatures and adheres to the WRG standard. Here is the breakdown I am using for the scenario:
5 Phalangites
1 Hypaspists
1 Greek Hoplites
1 Companions
1 Thessalian heavy cavalry
2 Horse archers
2 Peltasts
6 Skirmishers with javelins, bows and slings
4 elephants
10 Heavy archers
2 Heavy chariots
2 Medium cavalry
Converting Troops to the rules



Foot, Melee, Pike, AC2, REP4, 4 figs
Foot, CO, Light Armour, Phalanx, Trained Phalanx Heavy Infantry, Phalanx, Light Armour
Hydaspists Foot, Melee, Pike, AC2, REP5, 4 figs Foot, CO, Light Armour, Phalanx, High Morale, Trained Phalanx, High Fortitude
Heavy Infantry, Phalanx, Light Armour, High Fortitude

Foot, Melee, AC4, REP4, 4 figs
Foot, CO, Heavy Armour, Phalanx, Trained
Heavy Infantry, Phalanx, Heavy Armour

Mounted, Melee, AC4, REP 6, 3 figs Horse, LO, Heavy Armour, High Morale, Trained Heavy Cavalry, High Fortitude Heavy Cavalry, Heavy Armour, High Fortitude


Mounted, Melee, AC2, REP 4, 3 figs

Horse, LO, Heavy Armour
, Trained

Heavy Cavalry

Heavy Cavalry, Heavy Armour

Horse archers

Mounted, Skirmish, AC2, REP4, 2 figs
Horse, LO, Light Armour, Missile, Untrained Light Cavalry, Bow Light Cavalry, Light Armour, Bow

Foot, Melee, Dual-armed, AC2, REP4, 3 figs Foot, LO, Light Armour, Missile (Javelin), Trained Light Infantry, javelins Light Infantry, Light Armour.

Foot, Skirmish, AC2, REP4, 2 figs Foot, Skirmish, Light Armour, Missile (Jav, bow, sling), Untrained Skirmish Infantry, Javelins, Bow, Sling Skirmish Infantry, Light Armour, Javelins, Bow, Sling




Elephant, Foot, Melee, Terror, AC2, REP5, 1 fig
Elephant, LO, Heavy Armour, Untrained Elephant Elephant, Heavy Armour

Foot, Missile, AC2, REP4, 4 figs Foot, CO, Light Armour, Missile, Untrained Heavy Archer Heavy Archer, Light Armour


Mounted, Melee, Dual-armed, AC4, REP5, 1 fig
Chariot, LO, Light Armour, Trained Heavy Chariot
Heavy Chariot, Light Armour

Mounted, Melee, AC2, REP3, 3 figs
Horse, LO, Light Armour, Poor, Untrained
Heavy Cavalry, Low Fortitude
Heavy Cavalry, Light Armour, Low Fortitude

Some comments on troop classifications
In FAB and AWB, there is a concept of fortitude which is a measure of training, morale, staying power etc.  This affects combat.  Units are either high, average or low fortitude with the default being average. And to be fair to Justified Ancients seeming a bit long winded for description, in Ancient Warrior Battles (that is loosely based on JA), a Heavy Archer is classified as "CO, Missile", but Heavy Archer is more evocative.  Troops types in Ancient Warrior Battles match the most common found in Ancient rules, but there is no "medium category".  Much the same could be done with RRtK e.g. define Heavy Cavalry as "Mounted Melee, AC2, 3 figs".

Indian Infantry - how best to represent them?  They are archers and good at melee.  DBM got round this by making a special bow type - Bow(X), Armati has them as Heavy Infantry with bows, RRtK splits them up into Melee units and Missile units, as does the Peter Sides troop descriptions.  For all replays I have gone for a single troop type - Missile/Heavy Archer.  This categorisation may impact them in melee as Archers do not last long in combat in any set but we shall see. Note that in RRtK, Indian Archers are undisciplined, a characteristic that did not exist in Warrior Kings.  I like the introduction of the undisciplined characteristic in RRtK and I would use it if playing full size RRtK; but for this replay, I will not use it (only so play is slightly streamlined).
Indian elephants - in JA house rules, I have clarified that elephants are LO with Medium armour.  Due to the effect they had on the Macedonian Phalangites, I have given them Heavy Armour.  I was also tempted to given them high fortitude in FAB and AWB (they have REP5 in RRtK) as they seemed to last a while in the battle.  But I'll see how they go.  Elephants in RRtK are very touch and go - sometimes they do great things, sometimes they just fizzle.  I like that representation.

Deployment used in all games

Macedonian army

Indian army


Minor change
I have made one change from the Peter Sides scenario.  In the book, the elephants and archers are in one long line - on a 2x2 table, this would have an elephant, then 2 archers, then an elephant etc.  I have made one long line of archers, and then put the elephants in front on the archer line (but still touching). I believe this worked better in the replays. 

I will attempt to follow the same strategy, which loosely follows the actual battle, in each of the four replays.

Use the right flank horse archers to break or at least damage the opposing cavalry and heavy chariot.  Use the skirmish line to block the enemy archery, and rout as many of the elephants as possible. The Phalangites and Hoplites will then enter into combat with the archers while the Companion and Thessalian cavalry rout the softened up cavalry/chariot and then attack the archers from the flank.  The peltasts will hold the left flank.

The right flank cavalry unit will about face and move behind the archers to the left flank to bolster it.  The elephants and archers will advance, the elephants faster than the archers, in the hope of engaging with the enemy battleline and routing it.  The left flank cavalry and chariot will attempt to protect the flank of the archers/elephants.  Lastly, the right flank chariot will engage with the opposing peltasts in the hope of opening up that flank.

Replays Summary

Note I will post links to more detailed replays once I have written them up - Game two to four before the end of January.  

Game 1 - Rally Round the King - see this blog post for more detailed writeup

This game actually went most to plan.  The horse archers managed to inflict some hits on the cavalry and chariots.  The elephants charged into the skirmishers and pikes, causing some damage but eventually getting swept away. The pikes took a lot of damage from the archers with only a few pikes or Hoplites getting into melee with the archers - most were shot up pretty badly.  But then the Companions and Thessalians routed the opposing cavalry and chariot, and the Companions hit the archer line in the flank, and proceeded to roll up three of them, one after the other. Most of the Macedonian heavy infantry had gone, but with two heavy cavalry units behind and to the flank of the archers, I called it for the Macedonians.  Oh, and the chariot got beat up by the peltasts, and it ended up being a stand-off on that flank.

Highlight: The rolling up of the archer line by the Companions.

Alexander and Companions on the archers flank

Game 2 - Fully Justified Ancients see this blog post for the writeup

Mostly to plan.  The horse archers depleted the Indian cavalry, the elephants did disrupt the skirmisher and pike units before going under.  The pikes and hoplites got stuck into the archers, but due to the pikes and hoplites being disordered it was a bit static.  The Companions and Thessalians charged the cavalry and chariots and caused then to rout.  The Indian right flank heavy chariot never passed a single charge order and so that flank was static.   The Macedonians broke half of the Indian units before the Companions had a chance to roll up the archers.  And as I was playing that 50% was the end of the game, I called it a victory for Alexander.  The Macedonians were only two units away from 50% loss as well.
Highlight: a centre elephant charges a skirmisher that flees, charges a Phalangite unit that flees, elephant pursue, pikes routs and elephants pursues off the board - the elephant was like a knife thorough butter!

Elephant pursuing a phalangite unit that it subsequently disperses

Game 3 - Fast Ancient Battles (aka Bill Bank's Ancients) see this blog post for more detailed writeup

This game did not really go the same way as the others.   The horse archers disordered the cavalry, but failed to evade and were destroyed by a charge. While the right flank Indian cavalry made it around the back of the line, it was then immediately destroyed by advancing companions.  Porus was destroyed early on, and with no general the Indians were hard pressed to get an advantage as all their units are less formidable than the Macedonians.  Also, with command and control rules being group based, losing the general meant moving only one group a turn.  On the battleline clash, the elephants did a bit of damage and so did the archers.  But once combat was entered, disordered phalanx were still better than disordered heavy archers, and the latter began to fall and then the breakpoint of the Indians was reached.
Highlight - first general lost test of the game sees Porus leaving the battle.

The elephant that did have Porus (green bush is disorder marker)

Game 4 - (Homebrew) Ancient Warrior Battles see this blog post for more detailed writeup

The horse archers managed to make a cavalry unit retreat off the board.  The elephants did some damage to the pikes and hoplites.  In some freak dice rolling, an elephant managed to rout the Hypaspists and break though.  The Thessalian cavalry intervened but again, very bad dice rolling by the Thessalians saw them retreat.  The Companions finished off the chariots that were damaged by the horse archers.   While this was going on, the damaged pike line contacted the archers and managed to rout quite a few of them for little close combat damage in return.  An elephant and chariot of the Indian right flank routed the peltasts.  After the battleline fight,  the Indians reach 50% losses and so I ended the game. 
Highlight: Elephant (with Porus) routing the Hypaspists (very lucky die rolling) and then forcing the Thessalians to retreat through more very lucky die rolling.

Elephant facing the depleted Hypaspists that they subsequently disperse

Random Observations
Firstly, which one did I enjoy the most?  Ancient Warrior Battles - fast, not too much die rolling and a great historical feel.  But of course I would say that as I wrote them!  But then, the replay I enjoyed the least was Fast Ancient Battles, and I wrote them too.  Justified Ancients was the second most enjoyable, followed closely by Rally Round the King.  The three I enjoyed the most (JA, RRtK and AWB) were all fun, while Fast Ancient Battles trailled into just being OK.
I think RRtK was the least of the three, and only just less, as it took longer than JA and AWB, and also had a lot of dice rolling compared to the other rules.

Horse archers
These were the first part of the game so will discuss them here. RRtK handles them very well - fire to inflict possible damage but in themselves will be forced to retire and suffer hits themselves, eventually routing.  But not before likely inflicting hits on the opposing units, and so making them more susceptible to routing. JA is quite different as, to quote the author, "ancient shooting is pants".  Against loose-order mounted, there is a 1/6 chance of a damaging result, and if heavy mounted (like the Indian chariot), no chance of damage - just pushbacks.  But the archers themselves are hard to rout as well - they will evade back there full distance and will only die if you can get them in the same turn with another unit. Ancient Warrior Battles has the archers as a bit more formidable on inflicting damage, and are easily destroyed in combat - when they evade they are disordered, and if contacted again they are destroyed. Ancient Warrior Battles is mostly like Justified Ancients but better at evading.

Command and Control
RRtK was the only game with the general permanently with a unit (aka DBA). It has the concept of war ratings (I gave 3 to Alexander and 2 to Porus) that indicates how many gorups you may activate a turn.  However, once activated, a group must continue to move and this requires no activation.  However, groups will stop to fire, and also as a result of reaction tests.  In a rematch, I would give Alexander a war rating of 2 and Porus a war rating of 1. During the game, there was not enough activations available that helped focus what to do each turn.
Both JA and Ancient Warrior Battles have similar control systems - roll for orders to a unit or a group.  I made Alexander a +2 general (+2 to the order die) and Porus +0.  This actually meant it was hard for the Macedonians to fail most order rolls (+2 is very good) and the Indians would fail many.  I would change Alexander to a +1 in a future replay.   This game a good lack of total control to the game.
Fast Ancient Battles uses group activation, with the number of groups able to be moved equal to the number of generals, plus one.  I gave the Macedonians 3 generals and the Indians 1.  In the game, Porus died early which halved (from 2 to 1) the number of activations per turn.  Even when the Macedonians lost a general, this reduced activations from 4 to 3, not as big a loss.  Using activations really helped focus on what to move, which is also why DBA is a tense game.  In a replay, I would only give the Macedonians 2 generals, and also take Porus out of combat for the first few turns - the activations are really important early on. 

Elephants in Rally Round the King are unpredictable - while strong initially they can be quite brittle - they are always outnumbered in melee. Being treated as foot rather than mounted really helps show the difference of elephants.  And then when they rout they rampage - normally straight back into their own lines. Elephants are REP5 (one above average) and they need this to offset always being outnumbered and survive a bit of missile fire. In Fast Ancient Battles, Elephants have a really good combat bonus.  Combine this with the fact FAB only has two hits to destroy a enemy, and the Elephants are quite powerful.  For the game and their effect, their should really have been only 2 or 3 rather than 4 on the battlefield.  Justified Ancients and Ancient Warrior Battles treat elephants the same - they have a good combat bonus (+2 compared to the normal unit, and +2 when charging non-phalanx foot units) but a bad dice roll will see them off, and after the first round of combat they lose the charge bonus.  FAB treats elephants as very strong combat units while the others seem to have them powerful, but not too powerful.

Phalanx Vs Heavy Archers
In RRtK, a phalanx unit will generally survive getting into melee with a heavy archer, but be severely mauled due to its low armour class (AC2).  Hoplites fair a lot better with AC4.  An archer is -1 in melee, and a phalanx is +2.  Also archers, as missile units, suffer much worse results when not passing two dice (compared to the phalanx).  So if they can get into melee, the phalanx unit generally wins but has a few hits from the missile fire getting there.  Generally.
In Fast Ancient Battles, archers are poor fighters, and very poor if disordered.  Phalanx units are exceptional fighters when undisordered and poor when disordered (worse than undisordered archers but better than disordered archers).  Archers have a 1 in 6 chance of disordering a phalanx and have two chances to do so while the phalanx in moving in.  So the battleline clash comes down to how many phalanx units can get disordered and so be poor in combat.
JA and Ancient Warrior Battles are similar - Phalanx are great when undisordered (+1 in melee) and -1 when disordered.  Archers are -1 in combat, and additionally -1 when disordered.  Also, archers may retreat when charged in AWB (similar to RRtK).  So, if the archers can disorder the phalanx, they have a chance in close combat, if they don't, they are likely to die.  Overall, I like RRtK and AWB treats the interaction, JA slightly less so, and Fast Ancients battles is still good, but not as much as the others.  Partly Fast ancient Battles suffers as it only  has one damage result - disordered - and so does not quite have the nuances available in the other rules for different damage results.

Overall feel
Rally Round the King is very chaotic but still fun.  For some reason in this round of replays, I really noticed the amount of dice rolling I was doing in the game.  It is a great game to solo as many tactical decisions are out of your hands - you need to concentrate on the big picture stuff.
Justified Ancients have simple but subtle mechanics and, as I mentioned before, I've grown to really like these rules.  Although for Justified Ancients I had to make tactical decisions and the units movement rates are the slowest of all the rules (equivalent to DBA 1 and 2), the game played smoothly and was fun and suited my version of history.
Fast Ancient Battles was the fastest.  The game hinges on pinning units down in melee - melee is optional after the first engagement so you will only do it is there is an advantage to do so, and with only a marginal advantage, most results see combat continuing for another turn.
Ancient Warrior Battles takes the simple mechanics of Justified Ancients and then adds in some action tests where normally the player would have to make a decision (what to do when fired on and when charged) to make the game solo friendly. I wrote them and really liked the way it played - not too much die rolling with the fun and "historicity" of Justified Ancients. 

I liked Ancient Warrior Battles the most, followed closely by Justified Ancients (with my house rules) and Rally Round the King.  Fast Ancient Battles (aka my miniatures interpretation of Bill Banks Ancients) was still good, but not as the rest.  Scoring out of 10 on the combined historical and fun factor scale: AWB: 10, JA and RRTK 9, FAB 7. IMHO of course.


  1. Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Where is Pete Blockley aka tommi.atkins author of JA? I see his website is down

  3. He did post a comment on this blog a couple of months ago when I replayed Heraclea with JA. So I assume he is still around. The forum is still up at:

    but with no new posts for 18 months.

    The website seems to have gone rather than just being down. It was there about 4-6 months ago when I went there to see if there was anything new.

  4. I stumbled across your TMP post. Good job. Another set is my own Antiquity (, which is 28mm on 2x2 (alhtough 15mm could be used by basing more dbx bases on the 8x3cm game stands). Your fixed armies (for correct comparison) might not fit that well with my AP. Anywhoo, if you are interested (even in a look) I can send you the rules PDF. :)

  5. I have Antiquity already and it is on my list to give it a go with Heraclea. I think it will work just fine. I ignore points for the historical replays.