Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Heraclea replay with Phalanx (alienstar) and rules overview

I am replaying Heraclea with different ancient rulesets on a 2'x2' table looking for a fast play set (under one hour).   This is game 15. I downloaded Phalanx (the alienstar version) quite a few years ago.  When I came around to playtesting fast play ancients on a small table they came to mind as they are designed to play on a small board.  However, they are were not high on the list as there were so many others I was keen to play.  I am finally getting around to them and I am interested to see if they produce a good game.

Alienstar Phalanx rules, army lists and QRS are available free for download at the alienstar phalanx homepage.
This replay is a bit detailed to show how the rule mechanisms work, and if these are rules you may like.

Rules Overview
Designed for a fast game with 12 bases per side.  Troop types DBA-like but with 5 morale classes. Heavy units must deploy in one main battle line.  System is IGO-YGO with each sides action based on activation points with differing costs for actions you wish to perform. Groups can be activated as well as single units.  Movement is a bit slower than many other rules.  Combat is base to base and is resolved by looking up combat values for each side based on troop type and morale type.  1 die is rolled for combat and the results looked up on a table based on the difference in combat values to determine the result for both sides.  The result may be a retreat, double retreat or a rout.  Optionally retreats results may build up over multiple turns and count towards a break.  Shooting is resolved similar to combat with most missile units having a range of one to two base widths.

Bases, scale etc
Phalanx is a 24 page A5 format colour rulebook, version 3 being available in 2002.  It is designed for figures from 6mm to 25mm.  It does this by detailing 3 different figure scale ranges with 3 optional base sizes for each.  The default for 15mm is 8cm wide bases on a 4'x4' (Option 2) but also provided for is 4cm bases.  All measurements are in base sizes.
Each base is referred to in the rules as a vignette.  There are 12 vignettes to each army.

Troop classes 
Troops types are similar to DBA with different names with a few additions such as Light Warband (equivalent to DBM Wb(F)) and Light Infantry Spears (equivalent to DBM Ax(S)).  There is a DBM/DBA to Phalanx troop conversion table in the rules and an expanded one in the army lists.

Troops are further classified into Regular or Informal.

Lastly troops are classed into one of 5 integrity (similar to morale in other rules) classes, where Class V is the best and Class III is average.

The acronyms are not the normal ones used in other rules but not hard to remember.

One base is designated the base with the General.  It is used as the centre for command distances and if the General's base is broken, the army has lost.  A Generals' base infers no melee advantage.

The table defines the number of terrain tiles.  A 4'x4' table has 16 12" tiles.  Terrain is placed by rolled an d8 for each terrain tiles: 1-4 none; 5 or more various types. Add +2 if the terrain tile is on an edge.  Some terrain incurs a combat penalty on some troop types and most terrain slows movement of most troop types.  After this both players roll a d6 with the winner chooses their table edge and also has the option to remove or swap up to two terrain pieces. Players take turns deploying one base at a time (this rule is actually in the game tern sequence).  Players then roll another d6 each with the winner has the first move
All bases are deployed within 25% of the table size from the rear edge (e.g. 4' table it is 12 inches).  All bases must also be deployed in a single line called the Main Battle Line.  The distance between bases on this line can be no more than 3 base widths.  If a base can be deployed to the rear of a unit for a combat advantage, it does so at deployment but this is permanent for the entire game (only some heavy infantry and heavy cavalry can be supported, and only by normal light infantry and skirmishers).  Light units such as skirmishers are not restricted to the battle line and may be deployed anywhere in the deployment zone.

Importantly for movement later, any battle line base that is deployed in flank sectors (25% in from the side edges) is classed as on the Wing.  There is a movement penalty for units to move from the wing to the centre and vice versa.

Game turn sequence
A game turn is two player turns.
Each player turn is:
  • Activate a base of a group of bases
  • Move the activated bases; charging units declare a target that may evade and shoot if allowed to do so.
  • Unactivated bases act on their own initiative
  • Activated bases may shoot, target may then return fire
  • Melee.

Command and Control
Each army has a default of 8 Activation points.  At the start of each turn a d6 is rolled to modifier this number up or down by a maximum of 2. Each base or group of regular bases costs 1 AP to activate, informal bases/groups are 2AP.  Groups are bases side by side only. Additional APs are required for some circumstances such as distance from the general, crossing from flank zone to centre or vice versa, Class of the base. Activated bases can move and shoot (note unactivated bases do not shoot).

More importantly, activated bases will do what you want them to do.  Bases that are not activated roll 1d6 to see what they actually do.  This ranges from charging the enemy, shoot, retreat, advance, do nothing and doing what the player wishes.  There are some modifiers based on class and regular/informal. 

Movement is a bit slower than other rules - light cavalry move 2 base widths while heavy infantry move 1.  Turning allowance varies from 180 degrees for light cavalry and skirmishers to 45 degrees for heavy infantry. It does not state when turning occurs and infers only one turn per player turn.  Bad going reduces the movement rate for most troop types.

Acvtivated bases may shoot and may shoot at bases that have just moved into melee with them. Skirmishers and light cavalry shoot all round while all other shoot directly ahead.  Heavy bows shoot 2 base widths, the rest 1.  To shoot, roll 1 die and add some modifiers (there are 4 to choose from).  Heavy bows have more chance of a better result.  Results range from halt, retreat, retreat twice to broken if mounted.  Broken units are removed from play. If able to, the target may then shoot back.

Melee is one base against an opposing base.  Lining up bases is up optional for the player but a base can still only melee against one base. The melee process consists of the following steps that look imposing but that is only because I describe them in detail.  In reality it consists of two table lookups, a few modifiers to apply and a die roll:
a) On a table, cross reference your troop type against integrity class (I to V)  and whether opposing foot or mounted.  The result is the base combat factor ranging from 1 to 9.
b) Apply some modifiers (there are 8 in total) such as 1/2 combat factor if contacted in flank, -1 for each Retreat result, -1 if overlapped on flank (there are some restrictions on this), -2 if you are fighting a particular troops type you are disadvantaged against (there is a table for this, an exmape si Heavy mounted bow gets -2 fighting against any mounted or scythed chariots)
c) Each player does a) and b).  The player who turn it is subtracts their combat value from the opposing value.  This is the result combat factor (may be negative).
d) Roll 1d6 and cross reference against the result combat factor.  There are two results - one to apply to your base and one to apply to the opposing base.  Results are symmetric.  By that I mean the result for a -2 resulting combat factor column on your unit and the opposing is identical to if the other player was meleeing and was looking at the +2 column.

Results are either stand, retreat or break (remove from play).  Some types of informal units must followup if they can.

When a 1/3 of the bases of the main battle line are broken or the general is broken, that side has lost.

Optional rules
there are some optional rules around one key base per army, recovering from retreat results (to reduce combat modifiers), artillery, field defences and main battle line detachments that can move further than 3 vignettes from the main battle line.

Army Lists
A separate army list book lists 191 armies from 3400BC to 500AD.  Each army is 12 bases with some variations possible.

My changes
For 40mm wide bases, the recommendation for 12 bases is a 4'x4' table with 12" terrain tiles.  I will be using 2'x2'.  I will also not be using 12 bases and aligning to my battle deployment.

I will use the optional rule to allow battleline units on the flank to move more than 3 basewidths away else, otherwise the Agema and elephant cannot dash down their flank.

4 Leves: VLI, Class II, IF
4 Hastati/Principes: HIN, Class III, RA
2 Triarii: HIS, Class IV, RA (one with General)
1 Light Infantry: LIN, Class II, IF
2 Heavy Cavalry: HSC, Class III, RA
1 Light Cavalry: LSC, Class IIII, RA
1 Hypaspist: HIP, Class IV, RA
3 Pikemen:  HIP, Class III, RA
1 Hoplite: HIS, Class III, RA
1 Light Infantry: LIN, Class II, IF
2 Skirmishers: VLI, Class II, IF
1 Agema:  HCC, Class III, RA (General)
1 Light cavalry: LSC, Class IIII, RA
1 elephant: IND, Class III, IF

VLI = Very Light Infantry
HIN = Heavy Infantry
HIS = Heavy Infantry Spears
HIP =  Heavy Infantry Pikes
LIN = Light Infantry
HSC = Heavy Skirmish Cavalry
HCC = Heavy Charging Cavalry
LSC = Light Skirmish Cavalry
IND = Indian elephant
Class is similar to morale in other rules - I is bad, III is average, V is fantastic.
RA = regular; IF = Informal (i.e. irregular)
Similar to other games following my standard deployment

Deployment - Epirots on left, Romans on the right
Turn 1

I will give the Romans the first player turn as per other replays.

The first interesting thing that hits me is that I am not going to have enough activation points (8 each side) to activate everyone and also the Light Infantry and Cavalry on the flank.  If I don't activate them, you need to  roll randomly to see what they do.  It will be interesting to see what happens on that flank as all the other games it has been a standoff the entire time.  Note I cannot link (group) the light infantry and the light cavalry as one is regular and one is informal.  Links cannot contain a mix of Regular and Informal.  The Epirots will have it worse as the general is on one flank and so the distance from the general modifier will hit hard.

Roman activation roll sees no change the the number of activation points (8). Romans move the Leves forwards (3AP (2AP for IF and 1AP for Class II), Hastati/Principes (1AP) and wheel the Triarii (1AP) and light infantry is in range of the general (1AP if greater than 4 base widths) so will hold them.  Roll for what the light cavalry do - charge enemy directly ahead, so they move forwards.

Movement rates are quite small.  It is all in base widths (in this instance 4cm).  Leves move 6cm, Heavy infantry 4cm and the Light cavalry is managing 8cm!

Epirot activation roll sees no change to activation points(8).  Epirot move the Agema (1AP) the elephant (2AP), Skirmishers (4AP - 2AP for informal, 1 AP for distance, 1AP for class II) and Pike group (1AP).
Light infantry roll for own initiative and act like unit on right (pikes) so advance. Light cavalry charge.

End of turn 1 - moving slowly towards each other.

Turn 2
Only 7 APs.
Leves and Legionaries advance, Triarii continues turning. light infantry advance and the Light Cavalry initiative roll sees it charge an enemy within 3' or do nothing is no enemy.  So does nothing.

Leves shoot for no effect (a 6 is needed to score a retreat; a 4-5 will cause a halt).  Epirot skirmishers may return fire and 1 Leves gets a Halt result so cannot move next turn.

Epirot get 6AP. Agema, elephant, pikes move.  Light Infantry rolls for move and advance.  Light Cavalry rolls for move and does nothing.  Skirmishers were activated so shoot (need to activate to be able to shoot). Halts another Leves. Retun fire sees one Epirot skirmshers cannot move next turn.

End of turn 2 - bit of Skirimishers exchanging fire. Bit blurry - sorry.
Turn 3
10AP! Activate everything except the Leves.  One Leves charges forward and shoots (for no effect), the other retreats (the 2 centre ones cannot move this turn as they were halted last turn) but is blocked by friends so routs.

8AP.  Move the elephant up close to the Agema.  Agema does not move (elephants move 4cm, Agema move 6cm)  Skirmisher moves into combat (one one can move into combat - the other is halted by shooting last turn).  Common in some rules is that skirmishers fire at each other for ages with no result and so the main battlelines are waiting to clash but the skirmishers are in the way.  I am going to speed up the skirmisher battle by meleeing with them.
Charged Leves fire back for no effect.
Light infantry does nothing as does the light cavalry.

Epirot Skirmisher Vs Leves:
Skirmisher has combat value 1, -1 for the Leves having a support unit on flank = 0.
Leves has combat value of 1.
Modified combat value is attacker CV minus defender CV = -1, single die roll is 6. The result gives an outcome for attacker and defender. Skirmishers stand, Leves repulsed (retreat 1 full move) but cannot as blocked by friends less than 1/2 move distance behind so break (rout).

End of turn 3 - a bit more combat in the centre.

Turn 4
2 Legionaries move to melee skirmishers that shoot back and cause a halt (which does nothing as in melee).
Leves move into melee with other skirmisher (that shoots for no effect).
Last Leves shoots also for no effect.
The Light infantry and cavalry both roll for own initiative and retreat 2 full turns.

A shot of the battleline and skirmishers.
Legionary Vs Skirmisher:
Legionarie is CV 3, no modifiers.
Skimsher is CV 1, -1 for overlapped unit = 0
Modified CV is 3, die roll of 1 sees the Legionary stand, Skirmisher repulsed that becomes a break as no room to retreat.

Leves Vs Skirmisher:
Both are CV 1 so modified CV of 0.  Die roll of 5 see Leves stand, Epirot skirmishers repsulsed that is a break as no room to retreat.

The end result of the Roman melee. Another blurry one.

Agema move full distance (need to get to Roman Cavalry before Triarii can assist; the Agema will have to do the combat without the elephant to assist).  Pikes advance to contact Leves who do nothing with return shooting (note have +1 to die roll for HIP target, but -1 as target ended move in contact).
Light infantry and light cavalry on own initiative do nothing.

Pike Vs Leves (1):
Pikes have CV 7 (oops - just noticed the high CV of pikes - this is going to cause the Romans a lot of trouble soon methinks).
Leves is CV 1, -1 for overlapped unit = 0.
Modified CV = 7, roll is 6. Leves break.

Pikes Vs Leves (2):
Same modified CV as above of 7, roll is 3, Leves break.

End of turn 4 - the skirmishers have gone.

Turn 5
9 AP. Get the Legionaries into a line.  Move the Triarii close to the oncoming Agema.  Have enough AP to move the Light Infantry forwards, and the light cavalry roll for own initative and do nothing.

8AP.  Agema moves but is 1cm from the Roman Heavy Cavalry!  Elephant moves, Pikes are in two groups and are greater than 16cm from general so it is 2AP each to move them into contact with the Legionaries.  Light units on the flank on their own initative do nothing.

Hypaspists Vs Legionaries:
Hypaspists are on CV 8 (Class usually increases combat value by 1; normally pikes are 7 as Class III, but Hypaspists are class IV)
Legionary is CV5.
Modified combat value is 3 (anything over 3 is on the 3 or more table, so modified CV of 3 is bad). Legionaries break.

Pikes Vs Legionaries (1):
Pikes are CV 7, Legionaries 5 so modified value of 2.  Legionaries break.  A 5 or 6 does this, a 3 and 4 was repulse and a 1-2 was stand; so a bit unlucky to lose two legionary units.

Pikes Vs Legionaries (2):
Pikes are CV 7, Legionaries 5 so modified value of 2.  Legionaries break (another 5 rolled!)

Pikes Vs Legionaries (3):
Pikes are CV 7, Legionaries 5 -1 for overlap (the Hoplites) so modified value of 3.  Legionaries break (the third 5 rolled!)

Legionary battleline is completely wiped out for no damage to the Pikes.  Rough.

At this stage, the game should be over as a third of the main battleline units are destroyed (all the non-light units in this case are the Roman main battleline).  But I will do a turn with the Triarii and Agema to see how cavalry combat works.

End of official game.

Turn 6 (bonus and one flank only)
Triarii move to inbetween the Elephant and the roman heavy cavalry.

Agema charge the Heavy cavalry,  Elephants wheel slightly towards the Triarii.

Agema are CV 5 -1 for overlap = 4.  Generals add nothing in melee.
Romans  are CV 3.
Modified combat value of 1. The die roll sees the Agema repulsed - moves back one turn without changing facing.

Combat of the left flank Yes, that is an Indian elephant.  I forgot to replace it (I used it in the last replay).

Turn 7 (just the elephant)
The Elephant charge into the Triarii.

Elephant CV is 4  -1 for overlap = 3
Triarii is CV 7.
Modified combat value of 4.   Elephants replused.  They did not roll a 5 like all the Legionaries did!.

Elephant retreats from the Triarii.

Well, that was a fast combat - one turn and the entire Roman battleline disappears.  There was some unlikely die rolling from the Romans, and really only one or two should have gone and the rest retreated.  Regardless, it was only ever a one sided fight in the centre.  Possibly increase their class to IV (later lists have them at this class) increasing their combat value by 1, but they would still be at a disadvantage. The Triarii would have been better going in with the Legionaries as their combat value is the same as that of the opposing pikes.  But not very historical.  The rules are simple and are fun - it would be more fun if I was playing with more balanced armies!  The slow movement rate was fine - I thought it would annoy me as units are moving at half the speed I am used to.  The slower movement rate does mean you really need to focus on where your troops go - as they move to slow, and combat is very fast it is hard to move them elsewhere - once committed, they are committed. I did like that feeling.  I would need a few more plays to decide if I really liked them but so far I see nothing wrong about them and would play with them again.


  1. I read through the rules today (slow day before a holiday!) and noticed something about the melee tables. The spread around even odds is just one number...0. So if you have even an advantage of +1, you have a very good chance of killing the enemy. I would think that expanding the even column to -1 0 +1 would change things up a bit and make someone have to work for their victory. The next column would be -2 -3 or +2 +3 and so forth.

    Nice report and good to see these rules get some play. They've been around a while.

  2. John,

    I agree completeley. you have thought about it more than me, but by spreading out the melee table differences as you suggest (i.e. the 0 table becomes the -1, 0, +1 table and so forth) would go a long way, a least in the troop types I was using, to make it less dramatic.

    They have been around awhile I I feel I was remiss (as I was with your rules) in not trying them out earlier. Hence the November madness to catch up with some of rules that had been hanging around too long.