Thursday, 17 July 2014

Big Bases -

When I left New Zealand for a "short" stint of work in Japan - this is back in early 2000, you will understand, I started work on a homebrew set of ancients rules, which I call TEXNH TAKTIKH: The Art of Tactics, or AoT for short.  I've been working on them on and off ever since... I will get them finished; I just have to quit my current job and its associated time demands first!  

15 mm Naismith xystophoroi in wedge formation.
The rules use a square 80 mm basing system, regardless of scale.  Actually, the size of the base isn't actually that important either, so long as both sides use the same size - and it is square.  But 80 mm bases are good compromise between being big enough to get a decent amount of "big unit" feel without being too big to be manageable in terms of physically making them.  I use 2 mm thick cardboard - usually sourced as artists' mounting board or similar, which is sufficiently thick it won't warp.  

One reason for using big bases like this is for the aesthetics - you can depict "formations" on a single base even with figures as large as 15 mm; of course, the opportunities are even greater with 6 mm figures.  In terms of game mechanics, big bases are a reaction against DBM-style elements.  They cut down on fiddly micromanoeuvring.  When elements were introduced back in WRG 7th Edition they didn't serve much actual purpose in the game, but that all changed with DBA.  DBA only used a few such unit-elements, which worked fine given the delightfully simple limitations of the game, but when DBM came about, the limitations of such small elements became more noticeable.  Too many "units" for a general to command basically (my Modern Spearhead gaming suffers from the same problem).

Eumenid battle line in 15 mm. 
When I think of what the sources say about ancient pitched battles, the only one that readily comes to mind mentioning any sort of "small" unit is Diodoros, when detailing Eumenes' deployment of three small groups of young household cavalry trainees (often misunderstood as grooms or similar) in front of one of his cavalry wings, each said to be composed of 50 men.  And since they are not mentioned again in the actual battle narrative, despite the importance of the cavalry action on the wing, these micro units can't have had a huge influence on the subsequent fighting...  

Some of my Naismith 15 mm Macedonian pikemen.
Not that I was ever happy with the old 6th Edition-style units with their single figures, mind you.  Phil Barker was absolutely right when he said figure casualty removal was a bizarre mechanism for non-skirmish ancients games when you thought about it - "units" (by which I mean any collection of combatants, not just those in formal regiments) don't physically shrink as they lose a few men here and their due to enemy action.  In 7th Edition you still had units, but they no longer lost figures, bases, or elements as they suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - and this was definitely a good thing.

Another xystophoroi wedge, with some Tarantines behind them,
However, the legacy of 7th Edition and its element-based successors has meant that "rebasing" is something every ancients rules designer has to seriously think about.  My 80 mm square bases are also big enough so that new players can just plop down their troops based for example, DBM, onto an AoT base and have a go.  Four 15 mm-sized WRG elements arranged 2 by 2 will fit onto an AoT base no problem to give the right sort of figure density to look right for most units.  

Of course one great advantage of any set of rules that uses "bases" as opposed to "figures" as its basic building block is that you don't actually need to use figures at all: a base with a printed out picture of the troops in question stuck on top will do the job of providing a nice visual feel. There are after all, many superb illustrations of troops on the net that can be used.  I've always thought that photos of figures would make a very cheap stand-in for the figures themselves for young gamers who can't possibly afford to actually buy their own lead mountains...

Who can pass up a picture of a jumbo?!
Of course, having rebased my Hellenistic troops on non-WRG bases, I've cut myself of from gaming with them using DBX rules (except DBA can still be done, with some simple work arounds), but that's not a huge issue.  I've still got more than a few other armies on WRG-style bases, after all!  Some are even still in New Zealand, where I've not touched them for over a decade...  Although now I think about it, one has probably gone AWOL, given I lent it to my club as a sort of "lend-out" force for people to borrow.  I suspect it has been mishandled severely in the meantime...  Anybody seen my Nikephorians?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A day out with Lost Battles -

Work's finally starting to ease up, and yesterday I headed off down the road with my 15 mm Successor armies in the boot of the car to play a couple of battles of Phil Sabin's rules (Lost Battles).  Since Aaron was keeping the record of what went on, he'll no doubt be posting a proper write up on his blog soon, but here's my brief recollection. (edit: Here's the link to his first post, on Raphia)

First up was Raphia.  We followed the scenario booklet OOB, despite my misgiving about it in several key points; most notably in that Phil arbitrarily reduced the fighting abilities of the Seleucid phalanx to give the Ptolemaic side a better chance of winning the battle.  I took the Ptolemaic side while Aaron played the part of Antiochos III.  My left crumbled as in real life, forcing Ptolemy to seek shelter behind my phalanx; unlike real life, Aaron wasn't forced to pursue my defeated troops, and thus his cavalry were free to sweep around my rear.

Young Ptolemy has managed to extricate himself from his stricken left, and is attempting to urge on his central phalanx, who are alas being sorely pressed by their Seleucid opposites.  At the top, my victorious right is taking time to mop up the Seleucid left wing.

On my right, I broke his left, although not as swiftly as was required, and the central clash of pike was resolved in favour of the Seleucids, as my army's morale was shot by being surrounded and having my camp ransacked (there is no possibility of defending a camp in Lost Battles with just "baggage guards",  a very different handling of things to one of Phil's previous rule sets: Legio ; you need to leave out some of you normal troops to do the job in Lost battles - a point I had forgotten).  As a result my entire army routed (i.e. real-life surrendered) with the exception of a single pike unit on my right, giving Aaron a comprehensive victory.

Here's the scene just before my army broke and ran.  The unit on my left didn't make it off the board in time; that pesky elephant on the Selecucid left held up my victorious right.  Not a great day out for my lads!

Next up was Ipsos.  This isn't one of the scenarios featured in Lost Battles, due to the lack of decent sources - numbers and troop compositions can be ascertained reasonably reliably, but deployment details are very murky, so we used the free deployment rules.  I took the Antigonids while Aaron took the allies.  Each side had two generals, and the Fighting Values were somewhat larger than for Raphia: 72 for the Antigonids and 79 for the allies.

Here things also went well for the underdog - which happened to me this time around...  Demetrius' charge on my left was well supported by high dice rolls, and Seleukos was killed attempting to rally his cavalry.  The Allied elephants were deployed across the battle field, but didn't achieve all that much, and my right also put in good work, so Lysimachos was well boxed-in in the allied centre.

Hmm, this scene looks familiar!  Obviously Antigonos being on a horse instead of a litter has lifted his army's spirit!

Once Demetrius's horse swept around the allied rear, with the allied elephants in front of their phalanx rather than behind it, the allied morale collapsed, handing me as big a victory as Aaron had extracted from me in the previous game.  A great couple of games.