Last week saw me dip my toe in some relatively unfamiliar waters in the shape of Ganesha Games' Of Armies and Hordes. This is the fantasy mass-battle rule set which has been brewing away for a couple of years now, but was only released by Andrea Sfiligoi in the last couple of months.
Coming in the familiar 6"x9" format that all Ganesha titles come in these days, Andrea produced a limited number of spiral bound hardback copies and I was lucky enough to pick one up. It is a fantastic product from a manufacturing point of view and of really high quality. Regular copies will be softback, perfect bound like usual.
To start of with, we went for small armies coming in at just under 1,100 points each. My Hearthshire halflings versus my wee lad's nasty Night Elves. Regular games would be double the size. The models are 10mm.
The army lists are pretty intuitive. If you've ever seen a Ganesha Game before you'd be familiar with the Quality test mechanism used to activate your models, except now it is used to activate a unit rather than a single character. Then each unit also has an Attack value which is a modifier on their attack rolls (rolling multiple d6s depending on the size of the unit), and a Defence value which represents a target number enemies have to roll in order to cause casualties. There are then a range of Traits which give special abilities.
There are a huge number of pre-generated profiles, and a free spreadsheet available to build your own if a unit of your choice is not already there. However, and it is a big-ish however, each player's army list needs to comply with a basic formula: <1/3 personalities, and <1/2 personalities and 'limited' troop types combined. So a minimum of half of the points value of each army needs to be made up of regular grunts with pointy sticks. That is perfectly fine, until you realise that any unit with shoots, or is mounted, counts as a limited unit. So.... no armies entirely made up of chivalrous knights, and no army entirely composed of pointy-nosed elven archers.
I did question Andrea on this and got the following (very sensible) response:
It's a balance issue. We want to avoid all shooter or all cavalry Armies. Of course the players can agree otherwise ... Nobody would take infantry. All would take small Armies of better troops and make them archer cavalry. It is the most useful unit in the game ... we wanted players to have a minimum of those [i.e. non-shooter, non-mounted] core units. All players will have a few core units that are essentially the same infantry then one third of their Armies will be of more characterful ... troops. And a smaller percentage will be devoted to heroic characters, monsters and magic.
So... definitely no nomadic hordes of goblin wolf-mounted archers then.
Unlike most miniatures games, battlefields in OAaH are made up of areas. There is no measurement necessary. Units occupy an area and if an enemy unit enters the area they fight. It is slightly more nuanced than that, but still pretty straight forward. At first I was put off by the idea, but having tried it...? Read on and see.
The table we used was broken up into 29 area, mostly open fields, with a village, a swamp, a lake and a few hills and woods. There are a vast array of different terrain types possible including ruins, grave yards, entrances to dungeons, enchanted forests, etc etc, each with their own special rules. Again, we started simple.
The halflings took up position n the village and the adjacent areas. The archers in open order among the houses, the formed militia outside to the left, beyond them the swine herders, and the cockatrice to the right. Their commander, Puck Goodfellow, was embedded among the militia.
The Night Elves deployed opposite with their undead thralls and giant scorpion in the centre on a hill, spider riders to the far right (beyond the lake), and swordsmen with embedded commander on the left.
OAaH uses a fully developed reaction system, so looking back it's a bit hard to remember which units moved in which order. It makes for a very fluid game though - there is always something to do for both players regardless of whose turn it is.
In the opening turn, the halfling archers advanced beyond the village and the cockatrice advanced alongside them. The swine herders moved up towards the wood, but the halfling militia only scored a single success on their activation. Requiring two actions to climb a hill, they sat at the bottom catching up on a second breakfast.
The Night Elves managed to move their swordsmen up into the woods, as did the spider riders. Neither the thralls nor the scorpion manage to be motivated off their hill.
Undeterred, the Night Elf swordsmen continued to advance towards the halfling archers, the spider riders chittered forward, while the halfling militia managed to make it to the top of their hill.
Seeing the threat to the archers, the cockatrice sauntered over to stand beside them, just as the Night Elf commander led his swordsmen forward. And then it was revealed quite how well shooting is handled. The cockatrice glared at the swordsmen, turning some to stone, while the halfling arrows flew. However, having chosen to shoot, the halflings then suffered badly in the ensuing melee against the remaining swordsmen.
The swordsmen/elves suffered more casualties than the halflings and cockatrice so fell back. The halfling archers followed them up and destroyed the rest of the unit although the evil commander survived.
The night elf spider riders then scuttled forward into the woods where the halfling swine herds had set up an ambush.
And then the swine herd were utterly brutalised! In the photo above you can see how powerful the mounted troops can be. Six spider riders roll 12 attack dice. In this case, needing 4+ to hit. The four wee piggie herds rolled four dice and only needed 3+. The spider riders took three hits, but inflicted nine back. Pigs no more.
Having escaped death at the hands of the halfling archers, the Night Elf commander skipped off and joined his undead thralls, sending the giant scorpion in against the archers. Although it avoided the smaller hail of arrow fire, the scorpion managed to inflict some more hits on the archers before it was, itself, dispatched.
In the centre, the Night Elf commander led his thralls up the hill to attack the halfling militia which had formed a defensive (triangular looking) square around Puck Goodfellow. Both units took a pointing, but both commanders survived. At this point, both armies had reached the point of breaking and we called it a bloody draw.
So, what to make of OAaH? It was certainly different to most other mass combat games. It flowed really well, even on a first play through. The area movement made sense, and removed the fiddly mm precision that you can find in other games. Unit facing plays a role, but only if your opponent is in a position (and has the successful activation) to take advantage of the situation.
Terrain rules seem to work very well. I didn't go into it here, but different terrain types have different stacking limits which determines how many troops can occupy or move through the area.
You get to roll handfulls of dice for folks who like that sort of thing, but it still works well with multibased figures. We treated every 20x20mm square of base as one 'stand' and used counters to track casualties until such time as the base could be removed.
Mounted units and shooters are very powerful - I can see how skirmishers could be particularly effective in this game and can understand the reasoning for the army list restrictions within the framework of the game mechanisms.
I suppose the final thing to say is that I'm really keen to introduce my regular opponents to the rules, and that says it all really. Well, that, and having just started to build a new 10mm army... 😀