Saturday 5 December 2015

L'Art de la Guerre - 6mm ancients redux

Last night we had our second game of a new rule set (for us) - L'Art de la Guerre, by Hervé Caille. The rules were originally published in French in 2008(?), but the 2014 edition was translated into English making it much more approachable for us backwards monolingual types.  

After many a Hail Caesar game, all of us in our regular ancients gaming circle have found niggles that we didn't like, and we've been experimenting with a variety of other options including Impetus and Sword and Spear which seem to be among the most popular at the moment. However, none of our trials have hit the sweet spot that we've been looking for. When our Roman commander flopped L'Art de la Guerre on the table, who was I to say no?

The blurb from the North Star Military Figures website (the only UK distributor that I could find) reads:
"L'Art de la Guerre allows you to play battles quickly and easily between all ancient armies from antiquity to the late Middle Ages. You can play with any sized miniatures from 6mm to 28mm high. The basing is compatible with the majority of existing rules.

This full colour book contains all you need to quickly get started playing games. Players are able to easily compose an army of their choice among the 283 army lists (including Mesoamerican armies). The book is complete, there is no need to purchase any supplements.

L'Art de la Guerre's flexible system allows players to play standard sized games in a matter of two hours with relatively few figures as well as expansive games with multitudes of miniatures on large tables that can last an evening of play or longer. "

The important stuff summery:
  • This is an element/unit based game with cohesion loss but no casualty removal;
  • One base = one unit;
  • Base width is important, depth does seem to matter so much;
  • So long as both armies use the same base width, the rules will work;
  • Recommended base widths follow WRG/DBX standard;
  • For 6-15mm amies using 40mm wide bases, table size is about 5'x3l';
  • Armies are broken into three commands;
  • For a standard 200 point game, armies seem to hover around 24 units;
  • The many army lists are tight but not overly prescriptive.

It really is a smart little game. The rules are very tight, and anytime we had a question on the table we a) could find an explanation in the rules, and b) the rules simulated our received expectations; i.e. we thought, I wonder, should elephants rampage when routed, and low and behold, yes they do, and the mechanic is really nice! Can I evade your charge? Lighter troops certainly can, but if they are ever contacted by heavier troops the light unit automatically disperses. Can I disengage from a combat? In general, yes, so long as you move faster than your opponent, or if you have hit them in the flank or rear.

There are a range of fixed unit types that you'd expect, from including medium and heavy swordsmen, javelineers, pikemen, spearmen, camels and scythed chariots. Combats are based on single modified die rolls, but the modifiers are really nuanced, so, for example:
  • Light cavalry: +1 vs light infantry if the light infantry is in open terrain. That's it. If that is not the situation, then there is no modifier other than from supporting units or terrain penalties;
  • Medium spearmen: +1 vs all except knights and receives impact vs mounted units except elephants.
Depending on the army list, units have options to be regular or be 'upgraded' to elite or mediocre. However, elite just means you are never rubbish, and mediocre just means you can never be superb. There are no 'killer' units in the game.

We played a trial game a few weeks back using a single command with half sized armies (100 points) as suggested in the rules which gave us forces consisting of around 14 units each. After that, I went and ordered a copy of the rules. 

I normally take a bit more convincing than that, but I really enjoyed that first game and was enamored with the idea that from my existing 6mm Successors I would have no trouble fielding every Seleukid option, a Pyrrhic army, a Mithidatid Pontic army, and most of an Early Arab army. That's quite a bit of variety without any need <don't hold me to this> to buy new stuff.
The After Action Report:
So for our second bash I brought out my c.200 BC Seleukids commanded by Antiochos III the Great who counts as a strategist in the rules, making him a +3 commander. I'll not go into details, but obviously that is good, and better than my other commanders. Below is the 200 point army that I used to give an idea of the format of the lists.

Generals Antiochos +3
  Strategos +1
  Strategos +1
Cavalry Agema (2) HC impact elite
  Xystophoroi (2) HC impact
  Skythians (2) LC bow
  Scythed chariots (2)  
  Elephant (2) Elephant elite
Infantry Agyraspides Pikemen elite
  Katoikoi (2) Pikemen
  Thureophoroi Medium spearmen
  Galatians (2) Heavy swordsmen impetuous
  Asiatic archers (2) LMI Bowmen
  Slingers (2) LI sling
  Cretans (2) LI bow elite

The nasty Romans had two full legions (2x velites, 2x hastatii, 2x principes, 1x triarii, 1x cvav unit of dubious nature) and an auxiliary command composed of Spaniards and Gauls. He was the defender and set up with the auxiliaries on his left flank occupying a village and fields, effectively securing his flank. I deployed the bulk of my infantry and elephants in a block to the left of my centre and my agema cavalry, Skythians and thureophoroi under the command of Antiochos to the right of centre. My other heavy cavalry and the Galatians were sent on a flank march to arrive on the table at a randomly determined later turn on the Roman right.

Early on, seen from behind the Roman left flank. Antiochos has sent his Cretan archers and Skythians forward to taunt the barbarians. The Romans have their skirmishers out front, generally getting in my way.

My centre command unleashed the scythed chariots in an uncontrolled charge towards the velites. The velites in question promptly evaded, leaving the chariots uncomfortably surrounded by a whole bunch of wee blokes with pointy javelins.

In the Roman turn, the velites swung round and pelted the chariots with everything they had. Miraculously only the chariot on the right was dispatched. The other would go on to crash into some very hard legionaries.

Meanwhile, on the Seleukid left, the Gallic horse chased away my Cretans, thereby exposing himself to danger. I tried to send forward my agema heavy cavalry to catch him out in the open without support but didn't quite get the command rolls needed and he was able to retire back to his own lines.

Having swatted away the remaining scythed chariot without even needing to blink, the Roman infantry plodded forward towards the equally plodding phalanx. The Roman equites from the centre command made a dash for it and bravely engaged my agema now that they were so far forward.

The equites not only managed to survive the first round of combat, but were also then joined in the engagement by the Gallic horse supported by Spanish medium infantry, and a unit of principes. It was at this point that we discovered that my heavy cavalry could not disengage from the melee against other heavy cavalry. Rashly, I decided to throw Antiochos into the combat as well, to help buff the agema. This would end up proving disastrous, because when a commander is defending his face with a sword, it seems he finds it harder to give orders to other units. By getting Antiochos into the fight, I effectively lost command over my right flank.

At this point, my flanking march arrived on the Roman right flank, much to the surprise of the Romanes. They knew the flank march was out there, I just don't think they ever expected it to turn up. This put a lot more pressure on the Roman battle plan and at this point, in the race for breakpoints, the Seleukids were well ahead thanks to the cohesion reducing effect of their shooting.

The Roman right flank command starts peeling off some units to confront the Galatians but has no option available to try to stop the Seleukid heavy cavalry now approaching their rear. Back on the Seleukid right, the fight was going surprisingly well for the Seleukid agema given the overwhelming number of their foes. 

Although I was losing cohesion steadily, so were the Romans. The Gallic horse broke and fled, but the Roman commander managed to rally the equites at least twice, keeping them in the fight. The Spaniards were also able to flank one of the agema units leaving it more than a little worried. The Skythians were thrown in to support the cavalry melee, but Antiochos was unable to rally the cohesion losses that had already been suffered by the agema.

The infantry lines crash. The Romans needed some kills to stay in the game. It could still have gone either way at this point. The elephant on the right of the Seleukid line stamped all over the velites opposed to them and sent them running. 

... And then in amount of time it took to roll a couple of dice, it was all over. The Seleukid flanking command finally made contact with the Roman right but it was too late. In the centre, hardcore Roman heavy swordsmen dispatched some of my Eastern archers and an elephant. On the Seleukid right, both agema cavalry units were finally broken and Antiochos himself was killed in action.

With the loss of the king, the Seleukid resolve crumbled and their remaining forces surrendered to the army of Rome. From memory, the Seleukids accrued 24 breakpoints of their limit of 20 (8 of my breakpoints came from losing Antiochos and the two agema units alone). The Romans were up to about 17 or 18 of their limit of 22.

Lessons to take forward:
  • This is a cracking game which will see much use in the future and, I suspect, will become our default ancients-medieval rule set.
  • Don't commit generals to a fight unless you a) think you will win immediately or, b) you really, really need to. The command penalties make sense, but they really hurt.
  • Don't do what I always do and send Seleukid heavy cavalry off to take on entire wings (almost) unsupported. It almost always ends the same way...
  • Light cavalry (and infantry) are great harriers, but shouldn't be relied on to support otherwise isolated units.
  • Elephants are cool.


  1. A great looking battle (well, except for Antiochos!) with beautiful armies, this scale is very impressive!

  2. Amazing write up and I'm looking into this game!

    Cool figures as usual, too bad I am heavily invested in 15mm already.

  3. Great looking game. We usually play ADLG in 28mm but I could be tempted......
    Mike B

  4. Super looking game and great write up. Were you using 60mm frontage bases for your 6mm, allowing you to create the cool diorama effect?

    1. Hi David, all our 'elements' are based 40mm wide. For Hail Caesar we put two of these together to form a standard sized unit with limited diorama effect. For ADG, we just use individual bases as units, so some still retain a limited sense of formation etc.