Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Ancients - Portable Wargame Block Style

The Battle of Manzikert, 1071 - the catastrophic Byzantine defeat

Regular readers of Bob Cordery's blog  - Wargaming Miscellany will have no doubt seen that the newest addition to the Big Battle Portable Wargame stable is now at the second draft stage and covers the Ancient period. This is very much unknown territory for Bob as he has never been an ancient wargamer (other than describing himself as such!) but I am of the opinion that this is certainly an advantage when drafting a set of rules as there is probably less to unlearn!

It is really funny. Aside from completing the PW series of rules initially I was thinking to myself what could such a set of rules possibly have to offer when DBA covers a similar scale of action perfectly well? Having gamed  the period on and off over the years, initially with WRG 6th edition and more latterly with the aforementioned DBA and HOTTs, I looked at the first draft with mild surprise and, to be honest, a few misgivings. Surely the PW system would not be able to cope with the myriad troop combinations so beloved of most ancient armies? This was my initial reaction BUT, after having read the rules through and Bob's Battle of Pook's Hill and then the second draft it suddenly dawned on me exactly why such an approach would be successful. For me, the biggest strength of the PW system is not only its simplicity but also the fact that the rules can withstand any amount of tinkering. It is a rare thing for me to use the 19th century or modern sets without a tweak or three and so a pre-gunpowder set would be no different. The over-arching thing for me with the the PW series of rules is the all important 'feel'. If the game feels like that which we have read in the various campaign histories then the rules have done their job - regardless of how simple or difficult they are in execution.

I have often thought that many ancient rules pay far too much attention to differences between troops that are notionally similar and when you come down to hand strokes then these differences become even less - unless such a difference is extreme - few would argue that a cohort of well trained Roman legionaries would make short work of a mob of unarmed rioting townsmen, all things being equal. The trick is to make sure that such things are NOT equal. Using the troop headings Bob has suggested covers a multitude of types (you will have to take a look at the rules to see what I am talking about) and so dropping actual armies into these should be easy enough - with the old 'adding or dropping a strength point to vary the effect' ploy fine tuning the force composition.

In terms of using the rules I already have some plans afoot. Originally I was planning to fight all of my ancient period games using the huge collection of Command and Colours Ancients blocks I own. I still intend using these (as an aside the same applies to the Napoleonic sets I also own) but will now also be preparing sets of block armies for the period. I recently acquired a book entitled 'The Road to Manzikert' which describes Byzantine and Islamic warfare from 500AD up to the battle of Manzikert 1071. Contained therein are a number of very good battle maps together with a very nice table of unit symbols used. Most of these would be familiar to students of the horse and musket period but there are a number of period specific types as well including archers (both foot and mounted), varying weights of infantry and cavalry, siege engines, javalinmen and even elephants!

Many of the unit types I already have drawn up so producing the few additional ones will not be a major undertaking. I even have a good supply of spare blocks that can be used as well so cobbling together the required forces will not be a problem.

This is not a new project as I fully intended tackling some ancient blocks this year in any event but now that the rules are evolving I now have the inspiration to crack on with armies.


Kaptain Kobold said...

The 'unlearning' factor is an interesting one. I have a suspicion that most people, if left to tinker with the Ancient Portable Wargame for enough time, would recreate DBA :)

I uses HOTT for my ancient games. It gives me a more restricted palette of troops (keeping things simpler) and, to be honest, is a set of rules I can play from memory.

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


Thanks for the ringing endorsement. I look forward to seeing how you get on with the rules.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Kaptain,

I enjoy DBA and HOTTs and have used many derivatives thereof. It just so happens that I now prefer the concepts behind the Portable Wargame and so will use these for my own purposes, safe in the knowledge that I can tailor them how I wish based on my own ideas and interpretations.

I realise that you could just as easily do the same with DBA and HOTTs but PW just seems to take any such tinkering far more readily - perhaps its just a perception thing

I like the idea of monkeys and the complete works of Shakespeare though...;-)

All the best and thanks for giving me something to ponder over breakfast,


David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

No problemo! Needless to say the DC 'tweak machine' is already humming with ideas!

All the best,