Strange as it may seem to many readers, this blog was originally designed to be a vehicle for recording my progress towards writing yet another set of rules, this time for Classical Greece and the Hellenistic wars of Alexander and the Successors.
Those of you who have been patiently awaiting these rules have, of course, thus far been disappointed. And I am not about to announce that the rules are to be released upon an unsuspecting wargame world. Far from the truth, that would be, but I have been thinking.
Mainly I have been thinking about my previous effort in Ancient Wargame Rules, called Polemos: SPQR which were rules for the late Republic and Early Empire. Someone recently blogged that they found them original (which was nice), baffling (so my prose is not as lipid as I would like) and that they had a large following (of which I was not aware). Someone else has expressed appreciation for my ‘trenchant’ views on Roman troops, which I take to mean my claim that auxilia and legionaries, being armed in much the same way, fought and functioned in much the same way.
However, I have to confess that as wargame rules they are, in fact, fairly conventional. I have lists of troop types with descriptions, a ground scale, a command structure, and rules for movement, fighting, running away and terrain. This is more or less what would be expected in any set of rules. The precise content may vary, but all the rule sets I own are of this nature.
Perhaps I am far too hide-bound by my own worldview, but it does seem to me that it is a bit unlikely that a rule set could be written which would not contain some or all of the above items. I know that assorted rule sets have claimed to do away with some bits. For example, some sets dispose of a fixed turn sequence, but they do substitute it for something else. So I am not sure that this is quite as innovative as might be claimed. Other might dispose of measuring ranges; on the other hand, for modern weapons, this is fair enough, so seems to represent the basis of recent warfare rather than being a, if you’ll pardon the expression, game changer.
It is also possibly true that wargamers are fairly conventional folk. Those rule sets which do not conform to the expectation are, as far as I can tell, a bit like yeast extract spreads: you either love them or hate them. Even while writing and testing SPQR I was somewhat conscious of having to attend to the conventions of the hobby; kicking over all the traces did not seem like a viable option.
Now, coming to the wars of the Greeks and Persians (and, let’s face it, this is what everything down to the Successors was) I am starting to wonder if another completely conventional rule set, even if one with some innovation in it, is really what is needed. The wars are so clouded in obscurity and myth that it is, I think, really hard to convince a player that what they are playing is something historical, rather than something which matches a construct which claims to be historical.
I shall probably elaborate on that statement in a different post, but just for the fun of it, let me see what could happen if I just try some thinking about ancient battles.
We have cavalry and infantry as our basic two types of troops. Within each we conventionally define ‘heavy’ and ‘light’, but actually these are metaphors relating to armour and are not validated by even a cursory glance at the historical record. So let us have close combat and distance combat troops. So we have four basic troop types: infantry close combat (ICC), infantry distance combat (IDC) and their cavalry colleagues (CCC and CDC).
Now, so far as the distance types go, this is probably far enough. However, our close troops need a bit of nuancing. Persian infantry of the Marathon era relied on firepower, so we need a category for them: ICCF, and their mounted colleagues did the same, so CCCF. Greek hoplites and pikemen can come under the ICC category. Greek cavalry would be CCCF and Macedonian Companions would be CCC.
So, for example, the army of Alexander would consist of CCC, CDC, ICC and possibly a few IDC.
Now, immediately I can hear protests that a Macedonian phalanx was not the same thing as a hoplite phalanx. The pike, it is often claimed, gave the former a decisive advantage over the latter, as demonstrated at Chaeronea 338 BC. This, of course, is technological teleology – the weapons system in question gave a decisive advantage.
Well, did it? I’m not in a position to argue terribly well either way; I do not think the evidence exists. But suppose the pike does not give a decisive advantage. Suppose that the Macedonians are experienced and highly confident troops and the hoplite are much less confident and, to some extent, the last dregs that their city can muster. Add to that the fact that the Macedonians could execute combined arms tactics coordinating their cavalry and foot.
So what I am starting to aim towards is a system with just six or so troop types, and little differentiation between them. I am also considering ignoring tactical factors, partly because people complain about them as being too complex, but also because, for example, standing on a river bank at The Granicus does not seem to do you much good. So for tactical factors we give all troop types a 3 against others of the same sort, and a 2 or a 4 against heterogeneous forces. What we can also do is give veterans a +2, and elite another +2, and poor troops a -2. I suppose we had also add 1 per extra depth as well, as depth did seem to matter.
And there you have it, a simple, swift and accurate set of ancient wargame rules. Six troop types, three different factors, and 4 tactical factors to consider.
The question is, of course, would you buy them? They seem to me to lack a bit of colour; would simply changing the names to familiar ones (like hoplite, peltast) suffice?