Saturday, 30 March 2019


Well, if the title does not get some excitement from Russian botnets, I do not know what will. Incidentally, I would like to thank my regular readers who kept the number of hits on the site up during my recent absence, particularly ‘britany34’ and ‘tiffany 23’. I hope you enjoyed the discussions about world wargaming.

In a spirit of disappointing those more casual readers who happen on this post, I think we need to talk about interpenetrating bodies of troops. Perhaps it is just me, but I have a suspicion that I have not been taking the topic sufficiently seriously in my rules, and also in reading other people’s rules.

The topic is prompted by my recent comments on Korean units during the seventeenth century, whereby, as I am sure you recall, the musketeers, archers and spear and sword armed units moved through each other as the situation demanded. Thus, the musketeers shoot and, when exhausted or unloaded, fall back through the archers, who keep up the ranged combat until the enemy is too close, at which point they retire and the Kill Units take up the, um, cudgels, until the enemy retire and the archers and/or musketeers resume the fray.

I hope I am not sufficiently naive to suppose that this all happens seamlessly, but it does suggest that there are problems with sets of rules that do not or try to restrict too much, the interpenetration of bases of troops. After all, a base is a wargaming construct for a tactical unit. It is still made up of individuals who can move in a fairly small space. So it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an archer unit could advance through musketeers to take up the shooting, or then fall back through a load of spearmen while the close combat troops get into action. It is just that the base is a lot less flexible than this.

In Polemos: SPQR I tried to handle this through allowing, say, skirmishers, to retire through formed foot facing the same way. The idea was, and is, that the skirmishers could be the ‘ablative’ front to a block of troops and, when disrupted, retire to the back of the block. I suspect this is a reasonable model of what really could have happened, in that the skirmishers, in battle reports, open the action and then are heard of no more.

We get into more complex areas, however, when we consider something like the Roman triple line formation of the middle republic. Someone asked me recently how I handled that in SPQR. The answer is, of course, that I do not, because the Roman legion had evolved by then, but it is an interesting question. My initial reaction is that there is no really good model for the sort of movement and relief we are talking about, even if what is described is is, as in the Korean case, rather idealized and certainly discounts any enemy activity.

My second reaction is not to model it at all. After all, in Polemos: ECW we avoid the question of the interaction of pike and shot by basing them as the same unit and varying the ratio of pike to shot to reflect the capability of the base. This managed to escape problems of micro-managing formations and support, which is what does damage to the DBR model.  By extension, therefore, we could do something similar with the Roman middle republican legion. Have the hastati, principes and triarii all on the same base, one behind the other. Thus the first line can be assumed to move behind the second, and be relieved by the third and so on. Velites, deployed in front of the base can retire straight through it.

There are objections to this of course (and do not believe that I have thought it through at all). Roman legions were not that inflexible, and the third line was formed of half the number of men as the first two. So the above might be a model of how the fighting was supposed to proceed, it probably would not do for a set of wargame rules.

An alternative would be something like what I have already described for the SPQR rules. We could, conceivably, deploy the Roman legion in two or three lines (with the skirmishers out front, of course) and by nifty rules work enable the Romans to pass through each other, thus simulating the relief system. In Polemos terms, when the front base recoils, it can pass through the second and third lines and pitch up, shaken but not destroyed, at the back while the second line takes up the burden.

So far as I can tell (and I have not done any more work on the idea that what is written here) this model would work, at least for the Romans and assuming that the legion really did work as we envisage. Whether a similar relief process works in other circumstances I am not sure. Did Macedonian pike have a similar sort of relief system? If not, then why not? If so, then why did they lose consistently to the Romans?

If we make the assumption that the pike blocks did not have a relief system, then the relief model outlined above would need some tweaks to ensure that the Macedonians do not become Romans. This is trickier than it looks in terms of rule writing, but I suppose it is possible. On the other hand, we could argue that the pike blocks were so deep to enable a different sort of relief system, based around the individual file, to be used, which would require a different sort of model.

At the current rate of progress, I could be talking myself into writing a set of rules for the Punic and Macedonian wars. As I have no Carthaginians at all and do not feel particularly inclined to start buying and painting any (already having two major projects and at least three campaigns underway) I shall leave the subject there, for the moment, and go back to pondering Korean troop interactions.

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