The other day, Dan and I played our first game of To the Strongest, the card-driven Ancients game by Simon Miller. I had picked up the rules at Salute the year they were published and liked the look of them but hadn’t got around to playing them. In recent years our group started using L’Art de la Guerre for Ancients games and it seemed better not to confuse things with a different set. However when I later bought, played and greatly enjoyed Simon’s and Anthony Brentnall’s ECW set For King and Parliament, I was keen to give TtS a go. As Dan is a committed classicist but new to Ancient wargaming, he was the ideal partner for the first game.
TtS already has a loyal following but deserves to be better known. The designer’s notes explain that it was designed to be learnt easily and to play smoothly and quickly. With these aims in mind it uses a square grid and normal playing cards, which are used to regulate all actions and outcomes. It achieves its objectives beautifully. That said, I have read that both the grid and playing cards have put some people off trying it. If so, that is a shame: to my mind, the square grid helps constrain the players to a more plausible range of tactical choices than the fast and loose manoeuvres one sometimes sees with other rules sets. As for the cards, if they are a problem, they can be replaced by ten-sided dice without changing the mechanics at all. Using playing cards does however allow spectators to see what is going on and I am quite happy to stick with them.
We kept things simple with a 100 point battle pitching Peloponnesian War Athenians against Spartans. I hoped the limited range of troop types involved would ease us into the game, without too many special rules to remember. Of course, we did need to assimilate the key Hoplite rule (no diagonal left movement; diagonal right counts as a simple move). I also lacked the quantities of javelin-armed light infantry required for two Hoplite armies, so over the two days preceding our game I frantically completed three new 8-figure units. Not the prettiest paint jobs but serviceable. One of these units, 8 plastic peltasts by Rospaks, had been waiting unpainted in my projects box since (can it be true?) 1982. Proof that the incentive of a looming game can unblock the tightest of painting jams.
Dan took Athens while I led Sparta. In general, I had a better quality phalanx while Dan’s light troops were mostly superior to mine. We each placed our single cavalry unit on our right, with light infantry shared between the flanks. In the opening phases, the lights sparred on the wings while our hoplite lines approached each other. Dan’s cavalry overran the light javelins on my left and went deep, capturing my camp, destroying its ammunition reserves and losing me 3 victory medals. At about the same time the centres clashed. Obviously the memo about Spartan quality hadn’t reached the card deck as for a good two turns, I drew high when I wanted low and low when I needed high. Fortunately hoplites need three disorders to die and I did start landing blows before disappearing, although a disordered unit has a much reduced chance of hitting in melee (8+ instead of 6+).
Dan chose to take his cavalry out of my camp to attack my centre from behind and I was able to retake it. I took back the 3 victory medals but not the ammunition supply, as it seemed likely that this would have been lost in the plundering. I did get a breathing space from my recovered medals and then, when I was fortunate enough to kill one of his generals, it seemed for a moment like I might retake the lead. But then I lost an allied hoplite unit in my centre, which allowed Dan to break into my line and take all my victory medals. It was a deserved win.
We enjoyed the game thoroughly and agreed that the rules are very quickly absorbed. The battle also felt right for a clash of two hoplite armies. Our light troops were all a bit crap, as they should have been, apart from Dan’s Cretan archers. The Hoplites had the resilience one would expect to see, combined with a satisfying lack of manoeuvrability. Fond as I am of L’Art de la Guerre, I do not think ADLG gives either the look or the feel of a hoplite encounter: too many gaps appear in the line and too many mini-units zip around into enemy flanks and manage other moves that are way too complex for this period. TtS felt more convincing, but still gave the choices and challenges that make a wargame enjoyable.
The figures used are a mixture of old plastic Rospaks and Minifigs. The oldest were painted in 1982, when I was more frivolous about accuracy (if you look carefully you will spot both Snoopy and Charlie Brown on the Athenian shields). I am so happy that during the many years I spent away from Ancients, I didn’t find these armies a new home.
Since our game I have been painting more Gauls, with a view to seeing how they play with TtS, against either a later Greek army or Republican Romans. Poor Dan is in for some more Ancients gaming very sooon.
We played a 200 point game of Art de la Guerre on Wednesday, with Spencer and Matt pitting their Early Imperial Romans against my Ptolemaic army. Both of them are building their own Roman armies, Spencer’s set a little earlier than Matt’s so with oval shields. Together, they fielded ten bases of legionaries, one of equites and two light infantry bases, supplemented by some Hellenistic horse and medium infantry. My Ptolemaics had six bases of pikes, four of thureophoroi, five of xystophoroi, two Nubians and a bunch of light infantry.
The Romans fielded two commands entirely of infantry and put all their cavalry in their right hand command. The Ptolemaics had the pikes in the centre with cavalry and light infantry divided more or less evenly between the two wings. The Roman plan was to avoid the front of the pikes by drawing their centre back and to the left like a matador’s cloak. Meanwhile their horse would crush my left wing horse and fall upon the rear of my pikes, while their left would fend off my right wing.
To begin with, the Roman plan went well. Their right wing drove my Nubian horse right off the table. But as they turned to engage my centre, their commander threw himself into a melee with some thureophoroi in which he was killed. From then on, the Roman right had to operate with no command roll modifiers and a 2CP cost for each order. Meanwhile, my pikes were able to close with the Roman centre before it could get out of the way. On the Roman left/Ptolemaic right, the Greek/Macedonian horse faced off against Matt’s legionaries with neither side closing.
The combat in the centre went well for the pikes, as their Roman opponents were out of position. Even so, the Romans were a tough nut to crack and took time to wear down. On the unengaged flank, the Ptolemaic horse finally charged the Roman left but there followed several rounds of inconclusive combat. Eventually, the uneven struggle in the centre tipped too far in Ptolemy’s favour and the Roman army broke.
The game ran at a fair pace. We are all now more familiar with the rules although still needed to do some checking here and there. There were various points to note for future games. One is the powerful combination of an elite unit with armour. The armour rule really reduces the chances of an emphatic or rapid result. Another is the crippling effect of losing a commander. Before you get stuck in with a general, make sure it’s worth the risk of losing him.
Another thought is that the threat of combat can be more effective than charging in. For most of the game my right wing was facing off against the Roman left, stopping it from turning to attack my centre from behind but without actually charging it. With hindsight, I needn’t have charged at all since my victory points were coming from elsewhere. Once we did start fighting on this wing, all I really did was increase the risk that poor dice rolling might give the Romans victory points unnecessarily. It is always tempting to get stuck in with everybody but in some situations, I don’t think this is a smart option.
As usual with these opponents, the game was played in a generous and cheerful spirit. Special mention must go to Spencer’s handiwork on his legionaries. Exquisitely painted and posed, each base is a vivid little diorama. He isn’t exactly a fast worker but the results are splendid.
The figures on the table were a mixture of Heroics and Ros plastics, Minifigs, First Corps, Victrix, Warlord and Black Tree Design. Oldest painted in 1981 and newest finished last Tuesday.
We played a 200 point game of Art de la Guerre last Saturday. Spencer having confessed a weakness for elephants, I revisited the lists for the battle of the Metaurus that we used a year or so ago. Spencer took the part of Hasdrubal, arriving in Italy to reinforce his brother Hannibal, while Matt led the combined consular armies of Nero and Salinator.
The army lists were adapted in two ways to reflect the scenario. First, the Gauls in Hasdrubal‘s army were made mediocre and not impetuous, to reflect their poor quality (Roman accounts say they were drunk, but more likely they were just disaffected and wobbly). The Romans were not told about this drop in quality until the Gauls’ first combat. Second, the cavalry limit for the Romans was increased as Nero’s highly irregular decision to join Salinator had given the Romans cavalry superiority, an unusual situation in the Punic wars.
The battlefield was flanked by the river Metaurus on the Carthaginian right, with open plain in the centre and rising ground on the Carthaginian left/Roman right. A hill with a steep ravine at its base ran in front of the Carthaginian left while a more gentle hill faced it on the Roman side of the table.
To reflect the fact that Hasdrubal had been retreating and turned at bay when his pursuers got too close, Spencer was obliged to set up his entire army first. He placed his cavalry on his right, his Gauls in the centre and his Spanish and elephants on his left, including on the hill protected by the steep ravine.
Matt set up with Nero’s infantry on the left, his combined cavalry in the centre and Salinator’s infantry (his largest command) on his right. However, instead of matching Spencer’s frontage, Matt deployed in some depth and his extreme right set up opposite Spencer’s centre. This left the Spanish on the hill with no opposition to their front. Matt’s plan was to grind down the Carthaginian right and centre before Hasdrubal’s left could engage. As the need arose, he was ready to peel off troops from behind Salinator’s front line to hold off Hasdrubal’s left wing if and when it did reach his flank.
On seeing the Roman deployment, Spencer began racing his cavalry to the left behind his front line, in an attempt to get around the Roman right flank. However the gap behind his line was narrow and Matt charged this horse as they tried to pass. The horse managed to evade but now found themselves penned in behind the Carthaginian centre. Thwarted in their plan, Spencer’s cavalry then returned almost to their starting position on the right flank and got stuck in. It was a valiant attempt to seize the initiative but Matt had neutralised it by maintaining his objective, ploughing forwards and restricting Spencer’s room for manoeuvre.
Unusually for a game of ADLG, we ran out of time before a clear victory was won. A points count gave a draw, although we agreed that the moral victory was Matt’s. Certainly for most of the game, the Romans chewed up their opposition and caused much more serious losses than they incurred. However in the later stages, when Spencer’s cavalry stopped manoeuvring and started fighting and his left wing engaged Matt’s right, Roman losses rose quite fast. The outcome seemed much less certain at the point when we finished than it would have, had we stopped three or four turns earlier. Even so, I think Matt would have carried the day as he still had more hitting power in a position to do damage.
It’s always interesting to see how players interpret their brief. Matt took a risk by deploying on a narrow but deep front. At first it looked like he was inviting a Cannae-style envelopment. Had the terrain been more open he would have been in serious trouble. But the ravine-fronted hill on Spencer’s left, while strong defensively, would also impede a Carthaginian advance to envelop the Roman right. It was probably this fact that prompted Spencer to try to send his cavalry around Matt’s right. He nearly succeeded but Matt fended off the attempt with his steadily advancing legionaries. When Spencer did advance his left and it eventually made contact, it did a lot of damage but too late in the game to swing the balance.
It was fun playing a scenario as opposed to a straight points battle. At least, I found the narrative more compelling for knowing who the players were supposed to represent. As usual, the players were great company and courteous to a fault: maybe next time we should play something from the Lace Wars so each can invite the other to shoot first...
Figures are a combination of 25mm Minifigs, Garrison, Newline, Black Tree and First Corps. The Roman army in their entirety are very old Minifigs and they really can’t combine with other ranges, but I am very fond of them, telegraph pole spears notwithstanding.
On Monday evening we played two 100 point games of Art de la Guerre. The aim was to introduce these rules to Spencer, in return for his recently introducing us to Chain of Command. It was also Matt’s first outing with his early Imperial Romans. He hasn’t painted 100 points’ worth yet so we supplemented his army with Iberians. Spencer led a horde of impetuous Gauls. I haven’t known him long but somehow I knew they’d suit him.
After a couple of turns learning the ropes, Spencer got into the swing and sent his lads flying every which way, marching down his right flank, moving up the middle and sending a very cheeky scout around Matt’s right to capture his camp. The Gauls also had the better of combat and this, plus the VPs for plundering the Roman stockade, won Spencer a rapid victory.
Game two was a different proposition. Spencer tried again to distract Matt with his light cavalry but they were quickly chased off the field. As the centres closed, a Gallic chariot charge on their right nearly succeeded but as more supports were committed, Matt won that combat. In the centre the Gauls (mostly) bounced off legionaries and in relatively short order, Matt had his revenge. One game all.
The difference between the two games was interesting. In the first one Matt came forward, making it easier for Spencer to swamp his position. In the second he held his line back, with woods on his left and a difficult hill anchoring his right. On this more constricted front, the Gauls couldn’t get the overlaps and in a straight face to face contest, the odds favoured Rome.
Both games were good fun and I think we’ll get Spencer back to try ADLG again. For the second game we allowed each side a few rerolls as suggested in the optional rules. Matt had observed that a bad roll in a critical moment can be devastating, especially in a 100 Point game, and the rerolls did help here. Next time,we will field 200 point armies as they do make for a more varied game.
ADLG is an easy rule set to learn and it delivers decisive results. Light troops work very convincingly and the evade rule is particularly effective. But I have two low level grumbles. The first is the rules for flank and rear attacks, notably when gaps appear, which for the life of me I can’t retain in my head. Did they have to be so fiddly? The second is the appearance of the table in the closing stages of a game, when the battle lines end up looking like a mouthful of broken teeth. It may be simpler and make sense in gaming terms to remove bases in the middle of the line while their neighbours plough on, but this doesn’t fit my imagination of a line slowly crumbling until everybody goes. I think this is probably just me and I still enjoy the mechanics, - but the game gets less photogenic as play wears on.
That said, any rules that permit two satisfying games on one weekday evening have to be doing something right.
Gaming the Metaurus
My previous blog post explained how we created an ADLG scenario for the battle of the Metaurus. This post tells you how the game went.
Ben took the role of Hamilcar and Matt commanded the Romans. Ben followed Hamilcar’s deployment, putting his Gauls on the high ground protected by a strip of difficult terrain. He put his elephants in the centre, with Spanish and African foot behind them, and his cavalry on the right, supported by two more stands of Spanish foot.
Matt deployed one infantry command on his left, the other in the centre and his cavalry on his right.
Phase one of the game saw Ben’s elephants crash into Matt ‘s centre and pretty much slide off. We had expected them to be destroyed while disrupting the Roman centre but they barely made a dent. Matt’s dice rolling was consistently luckier than Ben’s, setting the pattern for the evening. On the Carthaginian left the Gauls and Roman cavalry looked at each other, while by the river, Ben’s cavalry advanced on Matt’s infantry but wisely chose not to attack.
In Phase two the two centres came to blows. Ben’s troops fought rather better than their elephants had done and the fight was quite balanced. Meanwhile a couple of stands of Gauls came off the high ground, to be mauled by Matt’s cavalry. Then, Ben decided to launch his cavalry at Matt’s unruffled left wing. Matt again rolled some lucky dice but he also had the edge in modifiers all along this combat. Ben lost several stands in one combat phase, taking him perilously close to break point.
In the final phase the rest of Ben’s Gauls came down from the high ground, too late to have an effect on the battle. His cavalry nearly all routed and his centre started to crumble, mainly because his Spanish MI were less resilient. The game then ended as Ben’s morale losses hit 26. At that point Matt’s losses were only 9 points, of which only 4 were due to units routing.
Measuring up to the history
According to the generally accepted account of the battle the Carthaginians deployed pretty much as Ben did in our game. The Romans on the other hand placed their cavalry by the river, Salinator in the centre and Nero on the right. Phase one of the battle saw the Carthaginian elephants attacking in the centre, with similar unimpressive results to what happened in the game. On the left the cavalry wings clashed and the Romans began to push the Carthaginians back. The infantry in the centre then closed, with neither side gaining the advantage. On the right Nero soon abandoned any intention to charge the Gauls, who were too well positioned on the high ground. He then marched his wing around the rear of the Roman line to the left and assaulted the Carthaginian centre in its right flank. With this, Hamilcar’s army collapsed and he spurred his horse into the melee. The first Hannibal knew of the defeat was when his brother’s severed head was catapulted into his camp.
The big difference in our game was of course Matt ‘s deployment of infantry on his left and cavalry on the right. This made Nero’s manoeuvre impossible. I could, I guess, have imposed historical deployment on both sides but would argue that the more restrictive the setup, the less satisfying the game. To be frank, I was surprised by Matt ‘s deployment and wondered at the outset if he was squandering his cavalry by placing it facing the Gallic Hill. As things turned out, I couldn’t argue with his emphatic victory so what do I know? Nevertheless his cavalry played only a bit part in that victory. I think he was helped by Ben’s decision to charge Roman heavy swordsmen with medium cavalry, rather perhaps than to shift this cavalry to face the Roman horse.
In the last turn Ben had to take a survival roll for his C in C when the unit he was with routed. He passed it, so at least our Hamilcar kept his head
We played a 200 Point game of ADLG last night. I always enjoy a game more if it is linked to a real battle (however fuzzily) and I wanted to see if I could fit a historical scenario into a ‘legal’ ADLG format. I chose the Battle of the Metaurus, 207BC, fought between Hamilcar Barca and a consular tag team of Salinator and Nero.
This post is about turning a historical battle into a scenario. The next one will report how the game played.
The Metaurus campaign was perhaps the last chance for Carthage to defeat Rome in Italy. After years of stalemate on the peninsular, Hamilcar had crossed the Alps with an army to reinforce Hannibal. Rome was determined to prevent the Barca brothers from joining forces and a lucky piece of intelligence revealed Hamilcar’s planned route. Nero, commanding the consular army facing Hannibal, took a picked force and rushed to join his colleague Salinator in front of Hamilcar. From being outnumbered, the Romans now had at least parity with Hamilcar and for once, seemed to have an advantage in cavalry. The Romans tried to hide the arrival of Nero and bring on a battle but Hamilcar realised that he was facing two consuls, supposedly because his scouts heard two trumpet calls in the Roman camp. Hamilcar withdrew along the river Metaurus, looking for a crossing point. However he was unable to cross and as the Roman pursuers came closer, he resolved to offer battle.
There are different versions of this story in the sources and the debate goes on about the location of the battle, nature of the field and forces involved. I chose what seems to be the current majority view, which results in the following elements:
Because he has turned to face his pursuers, Hamilcar deploys his whole army first. The river Metaurus runs down one flank of the table. It is impassable. Hamilcar deploys with his right wing on the river. Next to the river is a strip of open ground. Hamilcar’s left deploys on high ground, with a steep defile in front that will seriously disadvantage an attacker. The Roman side of the field has a low hill towards the rear, opposite the high ground. Otherwise it is featureless. After Hamilcar has deployed, the Romans deploy using the standard deployment rules, except that there is no ‘dead zone’ next to the river so troops may deploy adjacent to it.
I created two 200 Point ADLG armies, using army lists 53 and 55. All troop types were picked straight from the lists except the Gallic foot. Hamilcar’s Gauls were recently recruited. Some stories say they were drunk at the battle but it is also possible that they were just disaffected and shaky. Either way they fought badly and Hamilcar deployed them on the high ground to make the best of a poor contingent. I decided they would be mediocre heavy swordsmen and not impetuous, reducing their points cost accordingly.
Hamilcar’s army contained 6 stands of the mediocre Gallic Heavy swordsmen; 4 of Spanish medium swordsmen; 2 of African spearmen; 2 of Spanish medium cavalry; 3 of Gallic medium cavalry; 3 elephants; 3 Libyan light infantry with javelins; and 3 of slingers. Hamilcar was brilliant and his two subordinates were competent. Break point 26.
Nero and Salinator commanded 10 stands of hastati/princeps heavy swordsmen; 5 of light infantry velites; 2 of Allied light infantry; 2 of triarii elite heavy spearmen; 4 of Roman medium cavalry and 2 of Allied heavy cavalry. Nero was brilliant and Salinator and Licinius were competent. Break point 25.
Ben and Matt faced off on Wednesday evening. Their exploits are reported in my next post.
Matt and I played a 100 Point game of Art de la Guerre on Wednesday. Matt commanded Republican Romans while I had a Gallic army. This was the first time we have played with impetuous troops and with light chariots. I had hoped to field enough Gauls for 200 points but was 30 odd points off. I need to get my last bare metal Gauls onto the painting table.
Matt won the initiative roll and chose to attack. The field had two gentle hills and a field, all spread around the table edges. The middle of the table was completely flat. Matt placed his cavalry on his right and rested his left on hills. I put my medium cavalry on the right and light chariots and scouts (javelin armed light cavalry) on my left.
My plan was to hold back the centre at the start and send my mounted troops forward. The chariots were to attack the Roman horse on my left. On the other flank my Medium cavalry were to go deep right, to discomfort the Roman centre but wait for the Gallic foot to advance and then join the attack. I reckoned that the first turn disadvantage against Roman swordsmen needed offsetting with some combined arms combat.
My right wing cavalry galloped down the field and onto the first hill. I faced them at about 1 o’clock and then turned my attention to advancing the left and centre. Matt meanwhile peeled a base of hastati off his centre, turned them to face my cavalry and began to advance. I had a turn to react but chose not to. On his next turn Matt charged my cavalry in the flank. I elected to evade, in the expectation that I could travel deeper towards the Roman rear. However, the rules revealed that evading troops must make a 90 or 180 degree turn before scampering off. Instead of going down the table, I had to face the side. Even had I rolled a 1or 2 I’d have still left the table. Idiot.
I deserved that three times over. First, I should have chosen my position and facing more carefully. Then, I had time to respond to Matt’s threat but didn’t. Finally, I chose to evade without knowing what that means in the rules. Accepting the flank attack would have been expensive but at least I might have done some good. As it was, the hastati had time to rejoin the main line having done their job of chasing away the threat. I won’t do that again. Probably.
Anyway. On the Gallic left my chariots attacked and got the better of the Roman cavalry while my centre advanced. In the event, the first clash of the heavy infantry went the Gauls’ way almost everywhere. Despite the Gauls losing impetus against the Roman swordsmen, the Gallic dice just rolled higher. The luck evened out in following rounds but my first round advantage held and the Romans broke three points before mine did.
The last few turns were tense and Matt’s victory point tally nearly overtook mine. But if I won the game, he got bragging rights for chasing off 14 points of cavalry with a base of hastati.
I like ADLG. The rules are clear and I find them a lot more enduring than the entry level DBA. I do however wonder about the wide range of outcomes possible in a combat round. This victory felt unjust. Matt‘s swordsmen should have had the edge over my Gauls but the dice rolled well for me and poorly for him. Perhaps this was more noticeable because we were playing a 100 Point game: my luck probably wouldn’t have been so great with more combats to resolve in the centre. Perhaps we should focus on 200 Point Battles in future. So I’d better get all my Gauls painted.
We played a 200 Point game of Art de la Guerre last night. Matt led the Army of Philip V of Macedon against my Republican Romans. Matt was joined by Warren, in his second ever wargame, as commander of his left wing. This was the first ADLG game we have played with pikemen and it was an Education I’d rather have skipped.
Matt won the initiative and chose to attack. I decided to meet him in the mountains, hoping to exploit the vulnerability of pikes in difficult ground. I selected the maximum number of terrain pieces and Matt chose the minimum, one of which was a road. We ended with an impassable river down one flank, a lot of difficult terrain on the other one and a bowling alley down the centre.
It started well for me. Then the game began. With great care, I deployed an ambush of triarii in the difficult ground in my left rear, planning to tear into the Macedonian flank as they bore down on my centre. What a plan. I then completely forgot my basic idea and set off across the table to attack the enemy on their baseline. What a pillock.
Our centres met in open ground and after the brief benefit of impact in the first round of melee, my Swordsmen began to crumble. Warren kept my right wing busy with his Greek and Illyrian horse and Agrianoi javelinmen. He knocked out my Velites and Roman cavalry, then started hammering my heavy infantry from the flank. At about the same time, Matt punched a hole in the centre that I lacked the reinforcements to plug. Where were my triarii when I needed them? Oh, yeah. Sniggering in the bushes on the far side of the table.
The end came in a rush, with too many of my depleted units breaking together. In all, Warren’s flank attack took out two bases of swordsmen, two Roman cavalry units and two velites. On the opposite flank Matt’s Companions destroyed my allied cavalry, while his rock hard pikes in the centre overturned my heavy swordsmen, admittedly after several rounds but with grinding inevitability.
Lessons? Well, if you make a plan, stick to it. Pikemen in the open really are hard to stop and if I’m going to engage them frontally, I should have a pretty good chance of getting troops around their flank before they steamroll my swordsmen. And maybe in future I should spike the enemy’s drinks...
Warren seemed to enjoy himself and had the baptism of stabbing his hand on the agema’s pikes not once, but twice. You’re not a true Ancients player until you’ve drawn blood on a spearpoint.
It is lovely playing with my old 25s. Some of the Macedonians date back to 1982 when we started playing Ancients. Their pikes are dreadfully brittle and held together with superglue. The definition on the moulds is poor by today’s standards but I still love them.
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.