Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Milgamex Ancient Warfare overview

I first became interested in these rules a few years ago and was intrigued that they came out in 1975 and seemed to have some innovative mechanisms in them.  Fast forward to 2012 and I see them on eBay; as a rules junkie how could I resist?  When I first started playing in 1979 with WRG 5th Edition Ancients, I wish I knew about these instead.  They are (and probably were at the time) under appreciated and I hope to remedy some of that, 37 years on.

This is an overview not a review.  I played a game and a half but with WRG 7th/DBM sized bases, not individually based as per the rules.  I also played small sized games (on 2'x2') which would not have given me a full appreciation of the rules.

There is nothing much I can find about these rules on the internet except a boardgamegeek entry by the owner of the blog I live with cats, who also has an short discussion blog entry on the rules.  A bio of the author - Arnold Hendrick - may be found on his blog about page and also an interview with him in 2009.

For a quick summary: the rules are detailed, take a few hours to play, uses individually based figures (1 fig = 50 men) formed into units, combat is per unit and you track unit combat effectiveness that is as important figure loss. Casualties and melee is in terms of figures, no keeping track of actual men lost (unlike WRG 1st to 6th).  It has copious charts and tables.  It contains mechanisms such as random movement rate (rolling for movement distance), unlimited march moves and an impact phase followed by a breakthrough phase that is distinct from the melee phase.  Out at the same time as the WRG 4th edition rules, they are very different.

What you get

Ancient Warfare, copyright Milgamex Company 1975.  Written by Arnold Hendrick and playtested by members of the New England Wargamers Association. For earliest history to 1400AD, and includes War of the Ring Middle Earth rules and army lists. 40 pages in a small point font (small for me). 20 pages of rules including a couple of small explanatory diagrams, 9 pages of optional rules including sieges, 8 pages with 21 army lists for European armies 450BC to 200AD, 3 pages of Middle Earth special rules and army lists. There are no terrain setup rules at all, but there is a detailed terrain effects table. There are also 3 sheets that come with the rules - a detailed example of play, a unit roster and a huge two-sided sheet with the numerous charts and tables to play the game.  Many of the charts and tables are not in the rulebook, and are needed to play.  My copy had no sheets so this is where my special thanks go out to the kind soul in the US who scanned a copy of the sheets so I could actually play the rules.

Bases and measurements
Rules are written for 25mm miniatures but for 15mm, all measurements are halved, including base size. I will refer to movement rates etc for 25mm.  Individual bases are fairly standard for the time - for example open order infantry is 30mmx30mm, close order infantry 15mmx20mm, open order cavalry 30mmx40mm, close order cavalry is 20mmx40mm.  Each figure represents about 50 men. All other measurement is in inches.  Dice used are d6s.

Everything has a point value and point values are referred to throughout the game - both points and percentage increases based on characteristics are used.

Average armies are 600 points for play on a 7' table with a width of 4'-6'. I work this out to be about 300-600 figures. 15mm 600 point games are recommended on 4'x3'. Smallest recommended army size is 300 points and at 15mm that means a 2'x3' so 2'x2' is not outside the realms of possibility for small games that I replayed.  However I found using 15mm and halving movement distance that 2' depth still had the units starting too close together and a minimum 3' is required depth for 15mm.

Troops and Unit Cohesive Value
The most important value in the game is UCV, unit cohesion value. UCV in my games tended to vary from around 12 (foot skirmishers) to 30 (Elite units such as Macedonian Companions or Roman Triarii). Units may have any number of figures, but 10-50 is suggested as the most reasonable. I went as low as 8, which was OK and no higher than 30. Large units can soak up casualties but won't necessarily dish out much more than smaller units, and also be less mobile, so the 10-50 recommendation seems a good guide.  UCVs are kept secret for each side. Morale checks are taken at the end of a game turn and are NOT based on figure loss - only UCV losses.  Figures may be removed as casualties from a unit and reduce the combat value of the unit, as does UCV loss to some extent.  UCV and figures are lost through melee and missile fire. Results for melee and missile are always in terms of figure and UCV loss.

UCVs are based on troop characteristics. Troops characteristics are the same for all figures in a unit:
Armor: 5 values from no armor to full cataphract, +2 for a shield
Leadership: A (excellent), B, C or D (terrible)
Training: Broken into three subcategories -
    Regulars: 4 categories, veterans to half-trained
    Barbarians: 2 categories - experienced or young
    Irregulars: 3 categories - experienced, inexperienced, untrained

Generals are of 4 types - inspiring to inept.

Camps are optional.

Game Sequence
There is a terrain effects table, but no rules on terrain setup except "players agree on terrain".
Units are drawn on a deployment map and then each side deploys.

The following is the sequence for a turn.  Players conducts each phase simultaneously.
Write orders for each unit (orders are from a set list).  Units may have standing orders.

Formation and Facing
Rearrange units as per orders.  Players may roll to force this to be consecutive.
First Movement Phase
a) Dice for distance for each unit with movement orders. Units that rearranged cannot move in this phase.
b) Highest rollers move first.  Rollers on equal move distance move simultaneously.
c) Fire Missiles.
d)  Units that contacted enemy units resolve impact melee effects.
Second movement phase
As per first but rearranged units may move.
Third movement phase
As per second movement phase.
March movement phase
Units march moving do so.  March move is an unlimited distance move, but carries penalties to missile and melee.
Missile use by non-marching units resolved after marches.
There is no impact in this phase.
Melee resolution phase
Units in contact resolve melee.
Morale resolution phase
If you have to test morale, do so here and apply effects instantly.

It took me a little while to get used to giving orders that last for three movement turns, a unit can move a lot in a game turn!

Things to note: You cannot change orders during a turn.  Missile fire is possible per phase, but you need to pick when, as you can only fire with a unit once per TURN.  If a unit contacts an enemy unit during a movement phase there is an impact melee.  It is quite likely units will still be in contact in the melee phase and so will undertake combat again i.e. For first contact, you are likely to melee twice in the one game turn.

Orders are formation/facing changes and action orders.  Action orders are:

Charge unit 'X'.
Charge by most direct route.
Cannot missile fire.
Initiative charge
Not for regulars.
Remain stationary unit activated by an enemy charge, or if enemy gets within 10".
No missile fire.
Skirmish against unit 'x' at 'x' range
No impact allowed, must have missile ability.
Move to within x range and maintain it.

Other action orders needing no description are:
  • Defend current position
  • Move to position x
  • Fall back

Standing action orders given to a unit at the start of the game are a choice of
  • Cover unit 'x'
  • Tactical reserve to unit 'x'

There is a page of rules for attaching generals (a general must be ordered to attach to a unit), casualties to the general (possible when alone or attached to a unit) and what happens when a general is lost (all units will undergo morale checks with some bad modifiers).

Formation and facing
This is the only place to adjust facing or formation. If you change formation or facing you cannot move or count as charging in the first movement phase.  The next three movement phases allows some restrictive turning, but no other changes in direction or formation. Facing changes are by defining rotation, in degrees, on the unit's centre. Formations are:
  • Line - not over 2 bases deep
  • Reinforced line - must be 3 or 4 ranks deep
  • Block 'x' deep - ranks = depth.  Last rank may not be complete if insufficient figures
  • March Column - deploy on stand wide (stands are 2-5 figs depending on unit type. Allowed to use special march movement. No impact or missiles.
  • Square - only infantry
  • Positional defense - stands arranged along a position, e.g wood line, in defense
Particular formations provide die roll modifiers in receiving missile fire, for example. 1 line deep unit is +0, 2 line deep is +1, Reinforced line or Block is +2.

All troops have a random movement rate e.g. loose order infantry is 2d6+3", Legionaries are 3d6-2", Horse archers are 4d6+1". Highest pip rolled is penalty if moving in difficult terrain.  Units must move full distance unless orders dictate otherwise. Charging units must add 2" to their move.  Units of both sides move in order of speed, fastest to slowest.  Units move individually - there is no grouping of units.  This does mean than charging into opposing units with one or more friendly units in the same phase may not happen if you start a fair way apart.  The movement dice is random enough that unit get out of step fairly quickly over a number of phases, and units MUST move. Because units may move at different rates, if you have units that are not moving straight ahead, they may move in front of one another, blocking movement paths for slower units.  I found this out ordering multiple units to charge one enemy unit.  The faster unit moved in front of the slower one, blocking the path for the slower unit and so the slower unit could not engage with the enemy.
Turning and sidestepping is only allowed to units charging or skirmishing, or to avoid impassible terrain.  This make it a bit interesting to ensure units don't run into each other as non-chargers just move straight ahead, and possibly into difficult terrain.
Skirmishers try and stay within ordered range and can move forwards, backwards, wheels, sidestepping to do so. They can only do so up to total distance rolled, then they stop and can be contacted.  But they can use movement rolled to move to within ordered range, and then that movement distance again to stay within ordered range. I never caught skirmishers with non-skirmishers - their movement rate was always high enough they could move backwards far enough.  But if I had played more games, or larger games, chance would dictate that they would roll lower than the unit they were skirmishing against, and be caught.
March movement is basically unlimited movement (there are limits for elephants and artillery).  Marching units have to be one stand wide, cannot impact, missile fire and get negative modifiers when fired on and in melee.  But it is a handy thing for reinforcements and the like.  Due to the small table I was using, I never got to use march movement.  But it would be very useful for reinforcements coming onto the table and moving units between flanks. 

Missile fire is optional and has its own table (die roll is the row, factor is the column) and factors.  Range for a troop type is found in the army lists but generally infantry archers are 9", horse archers 7", javelins is 2".  Some units allow a second rank to fire. Arc of fire is 60 degrees to either side except elephants and light cavalry are all round.  Missile fire can take place at any point a unit moved through. Missile fire causes figure casualties and UCV loss.  While missile fire is a step in each of the three movement phases, a unit can missile fire only once per turn NOT once per phase. 

Impact and Melee
Impact only occurs on contact if at least one unit has charge orders.  If no unit contacted has charge orders, it is a classed as a melee and is resolved in the melee phase after all movement is completed for the turn.  If both units have charge orders, both units are impactors, otherwise one unit is the impactor, and the other the receiver.

Impact has its own combat table, combat modifiers and results. Unit types have different factors depending on whether they are infantry or cavalry, open or close order, impactor or receiver. Multiple ranks give a bonus based on weapon type (no multiple rank bonuses in melee).    Impact is performed by comparing the factor result of the impactor Vs the factors of the receiver, roll a die and looking up the result on the table (die roll is the row, factor is the column).  The table lookup gives the outcome for both sides - the degree of figure and UCV loss.  The degree of figure loss and number of figures in the unit are then used to determine actual figure casualties inflicted e.g. degree of loss is 'e' and figures in the friendly unit is 20 so the number of figure casualties inflicted on the enemy unit is 3 .  The impactor always loses a least 1 UCV and both sides usually lose some figures. The receiver may be pushed back and if the impactor is cavalry you may get the satisfying breakthrough where you carve a line through the enemy unit and continue on.  Even better, much much harder, is if cavalry is the impactor and scores really well, the receiver is eliminated entirely.

Melee is different to impact.  Work out combat factors for each unit.  The basic melee factor for each unit is determined by unit type, weapon etc.  Add in some factor modifiers - some modifiers are similar to impact, most are not.  Compare against the enemy factors to get your melee factor.  Each unit looks up their melee factor on the melee table (die roll is the row, factor is the column) to see how many figure casualties and UCV losses they inflict on the enemy (one unit will be looking up using a positive melee factor, the other with a negative one).  The is no push-backs, breakthroughs etc, just inflicting casualties and UCV losses.  Melee is a grind until someone fails a morale test or voluntarily retreats.

Morale checks are taken when a nearby unit routs or is destroyed and when the unit UCV loss is 20%, 33% and then every morale phase the unit is at 40% UCV loss.  So UCV is really important - figure losses only impact how many figure casualties may be inflicted in impact and melee.  Morale is a d6 with a few modifiers.  The results can be pass, retreat for one phase, no charges next turn, no charges for rest of game or rout.

The game ends when the number of daylight turns is reached.  Number of daylight hours left in the day for the battle is rolled at the start of the game. Winner is determined by UCV and point value ratios.  During the game, two concession requests can be made of the enemy - if the enemy is a certain % of the original UCV unit total (e.g. a regular army will concede is down to 40% of original UCV unit total) the enemy loses.

Optional rules
There are a couple of pages of recommended rules:
  • limiting the number of units and types of commanders available to an army
  • various events that will cause a unit to test obedience to their orders e.g. loss of a certain percentage of UCV
  • visibility rules
  • regular trained infantry may ignore up to 1/2 a move in one movement phase allowing them to pause, and potentially gain a tactical advantage
  • additional charge and counter charge test to see if a charge falters
  • dismounting cavalry, mounted infantry, transport units

Other optional rules included are career generals,spies and scouts, strategic reserves, forced marches, weather determination, special formations, simultaneous movement (recommended for 3+ players), restricted missile use, artillery crew replacements, night combat and 3 pages of sieges and fortification rules.

Army Lists
Army lists are provided for  21 states from 450BC to 200AD in Europe and the Near East.  There is matrix showing, for each state, potential enemies and potential allies.  There is also an additional mercenaries army list that can be chosen from for certain armies.

What did I think?
If you have made it this far, you may realise that these are not simple rules.  But nor are they complex.  There are a lot of tables (one each for impact, melee, missile and morale with different factors for each one), but that seemed to be the way of a lot of the rules back then.  They are actually straightforward to play.  Much of the length of the rules is for completeness for every situation that might come up.  The rules themselves are 20 pages, which is not too bad.  The reference sheet is very handy (for other rulesets that is not always the case).
I did like playing them.  I could see dizzying possibilities of converting them from individual figures to element based  (not hard as there is only a few cases as you could still track losses with casualty markers) and simplifying the tables.  But there are a lot more rules for me to try.  I wish these were around in Brisbane in 1980 - WRG 6th put me off ancient gaming for 10 years.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. 20 pages of rules is not so much. Quite reasonable given that many books these days hit the 40 page mark in rules alone without effort. You did say "small print" though. Does that mean each page is crammed with large amounts of text? How easy was it to read?

    For the small scale game, you could just dispense with casualties and make the UCV the total unit strength. Maybe scale it back to give a quicker game.

    Thanks for taking the time to post Shaun!

  3. Yes, it is not a long set of rules. But it is in what seems like 8 point font so the 20 pages would be closer to 30 if the font was larger. It was easy to read and clearly laid out, just small font. They do repeat at times and cross reference quite well and so are well written a clear. That also makes the rules a little longer.

    Figures are important as it is the number of figures that determine how many casualties a unit inflicts. But I see your point that this is circular so your could dispense with the figures casualties altogether. Ah ha. Yes, you could just use UCV and still capture a lot of the Milgamex flavour. I would shorten the move distances for a 2'x2' table. And you could possibly get away with smaller unit sizes as well. Hmmm. Will have to think on it. Later.

    1. Any chance I can get a copy? I'm currently trying to put Shock of Impact into English and streamline some things, and someone suggested this post of yours.

  4. Send me an email: shaun AT wizkid DOT com DOT au We may be able to work something out.

  5. I know this is an Ollld Thread but if you happen to see it; I cannot find a decent explanation of Effective Ranks; so lets say a 4 Deep Pike unit impacts a Cohort both with 12Figures Frontage; do the Pikes count 12 men; or 48 men when calculating casualties. Pls cc any reply to Blackbird_61@yahoo.com