I’d like to try to consider two slightly different but parallel issues in wargame rule writing this week.
The first is this: my reading so far suggests that the early Greeks were not terribly good generals. Greek generalship seems to have consisted of marching up to near where the enemy are and making camp. Having done that, at a suitable point, you march your soldiers out of camp, line them up, and make an inspiring speech. You then place yourself in the front rank, shout something like “That way lads, at them” and, hopefully, everyone charges off in the right direction, destroying the enemy and winning victory, fame, glory and so on.
So what is the problem with this?
Consider this: you arrive for your wargame, set up your phalanx, set them going according to the rules and then, apparently, you have absolutely nothing else to do for the rest of the evening while your little lead heroes battle it out.
Beautifully historically accurate, but it could be a bit dull for the player.
I remember reading a long time ago in, I think, Arquebusier, about a wargame where a French 16th century army had faced an imperial one, Lansknechts and all. Of course, the Landsknechts had a skirmisher unit out of those blokes in slashed sleeves with huge great swords. These clashed with the French crossbow / handgun skirmisher unit, and routed it.
So far, so good.
A bad dice roll then ensured that the French support unit routed too. Oops, chuckle. But then the rot set in and unit after unit of the French army joined the rout. Eventually, the French player, seeing a third of his army running away, conceded the game.
How accurate! How interesting! But what a dull wargame. A minor unit had succeeded in putting a whole army to flight. ‘What a waste of an evening’, is another way of putting it.
Historical accuracy does not necessarily a decent wargame make.
The second issue is with troop types. In Aristotle’s Politics, (Book VI, para 7 1321a5 – 1321a27 for those of you into these sorts of things) four troop types are identified: cavalry, heavy infantry, light armed troops and the navy.
Discounting the navy, we have three troop types, attested by Aristotle. Yet a quick check of some popular rule sets suggests that the Greeks had far more variety than this. Where are the light horse, the Thracian peltasts, the bowmen?
According to what I’ve read so far, an early Greek army in Polemos terms would be 20 bases of hoplites, and that is it. As noted above, the general would simply point them in the right direction and let them go.
So now we arrive in the realm of trade-off and compromise that bedevils wargame rule writing. How do we keep something reasonably historically accurate while keeping the game interesting?
In this instance, do I allow Greek generals to do something other than simply fight in the front rank? If I do, and they start redeploying the phalanx to flank, then it would seem that we’ve lost historical accuracy to playability. Where do we draw the line?
On the other hand, we could quite easily argue that although Greek generals did not engage in fancy manoeuvres, they might have been able to but just did not need to, so I’m justified in allowing them to do so. This is an argument from silence, of course, and these are always dangerous (just because there is no record of alien space bats intervening, there is no reason to suppose they didn’t).
Similarly, we have a problem with the mixture of troop types. 20 bases of hoplites are a bit dull, after all. We could just about add some skirmishers (light armed troops), although they are specifically excluded by Herodotus at Marathon – the Athenians were unsupported by either cavalry or archers. If we regard Marathon as a special case, then we are again arguing from silence and the alien space bats are lurking.
So is the choice really between dull but historically worthy games and inaccurate but fun ones? Sometimes, looking at the wargaming world, it does seem to be the case. On the one hand we have tournament and fantasy games where anyone fights anyone according to a rule set which has to be fairly arbitrary to cope, while on the other hand we have painstaking models and simulations which seem to drain all the fun away.
Is that it? Are we, as wargamers simply impaled on the horns of this nasty dilemma?