This week we were able to get a couple of games in of Eric Farrington's (EF) new Men of Bronze rules, published by Osprey. Both Lee an I have been building up 10mm forces with this game foremost in our minds, so it was great to be able to get our wee chaps on the table for a run through. The rules are written to be scale and basing agnostic - a big tick in my book - but it seems pretty clear that they don't seem to have been extensively tested with anything other than units composed of multiple singly based figures.
The numbers just don't always stack up. Distances are measured in base widths (BW), which works fine if your phalanx is composed of ten hoplites on 1 inch bases. If the unit moved 6BW, obviously that is a move of 6 inches. However, that doesn't translate for multi-based units like ours (on 60x40mm bases). At this scale, you don't want a standard move by heavy infantry to cover 36cm (6BW of 60mm)! Now, EF does allow that BW don't need to be base widths, but can be any unit of distance agree by the players which makes sense, but then why call then base widths at all? Why not call then distance units?
So, step one for us was agreeing on a unit of measurement. In this first game we opted for 2cm, meaning each of our units measured 3BW x 2BW.
We agreed (or I just said and Lee didn't argue...) to play the generic battle scenario, 'Decisive Battle'. The battlefield was all open ground, with a rough hill in opposite corners. We both deployed in rough lines, keeping the minimum distance possible between units (friendly units cannot usually be within 1BW of each other).
Leeandros of Corinth commanded a force of two drilled hoplite phalanxes, two units of peltasts, and a gaggle of slingers. Nikelaos of Macedon led some heavy cavalry, a single militia phalanx, a single Illyrian warband (classed as drilled infantry in this game), and a unit of peltasts. Both forces consisted of 32 points of doughty lead warriors. The average game seems to be around 38 points a side, but Lee isn't quite there yet. Seeing the size of this game, I'd suggest games up to 50ish points would work fine (and look great).
Curiously, under the scenario rules for Decisive Battles, the armies "should be roughly equal points, with no greater difference than a single point." This is a fair statement, except that all units are costed 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, or 2 points. So what EF is saying I suppose, is that you need to have forces of the same point size for this type of game...
The first couple of turns were spent coming to grips with movement system, bidding for initiative, and what to do with your arete points. Arete points are one of the key fatures of the game and are a really lovely mechanic. The basic rule mechanics are pretty straight forward and we got the hang of them pretty quickly.
... and then arete points were used to charge, and phalanxes shot across the table like canon balls! Coming back to the BW issue, a phalanx 60mm wide charging 24cm in one move seemed ... Warhameresque. There was no sense of lines of armoured men working in concert - it sort of became every unit for himself.
My Illyrian infantry charged at the Corinthian slingers, but they evaded and proceeded, in the following turn, the sling stuff into the faces of the enraged Illyrians.
One of Leeandros' drilled phalanxes charged at my militia hoplites, who counter-charged in turn. The other Corinthian drilled phalanx tumbled into my poor peltasts, and I had no arete points left to get them to try and evade! The decisions required and the command friction created by arete points is, as I mentioned, a great mechanic.
The Macedonian militia phalanx won their combat, pushing back their Corinthian foes and standing their ground. The Macedonian poor peltasts took a pounding, fell back and started to waver. However, the Macedonian heavy cavalry had been skirting round the right flank of the battlefield, and Leeandros' own peltasts were looking ill at ease.
And rightly so - the Macedonians charged in and routed one unit of Corinthian peltasts in a single round of combat.
Over on the left, the Illyrians also finally came to grips with the slingers. Although they caused the slingers to lose courage and start to waver, the brave light infantry held on for another turn.
At that point, things got a little weird. For starters, my wee lad interrupted the game and gave the Macedonian cavalry a peacock feather. The second unit of Corinthian peltasts charged all the way back across the table to join the melee between their slinger-pals and my Illyrians, and the unharmed Corinthian phalanx chose not to charge my peltasts again, but to add their support to the phalanx-on-phalanx action in the centre.
A word about supporting units in a melee:
On p.18 EF discusses a zone of control around all sides of a unit 1BW wide (mentioned briefly above). No units, friend or foe, may be within this ZOC unless they are engaged in melee (and also units supporting a combat, although this is not mentioned until later). However, on p.21 it says that in order to be able to provide support to a friend in combat, units have to have a leader (front central figure) within 3BW of the fighting friend. Therefore, with our bases measuring 3x2BW, a unit needs to be practically touching their friend's ZOC in order to qualify.
Units that do qualify as a support, except when they are charging into the flank of an enemy already engaged in melee, get sucked up behind the friend they are supporting, effectively forming one deep unit with +2 combat dice. With our multi-based units, that means we end up with a hoplite column deeper than it is wide which just looks and feels wrong. In this game we only had this situation once (above). In the second game we had a hoplite phalanx supported by two units, so it ended up as a column 60mm wide, and 120mm deep...
Here is when the support rules also make me bite my lip in thought. In the combat above, the Illyrian drilled infantry are fighting the Corinthian slingers. The Corinthian peltasts, charging in from the flank, are not considered the be 'attacking', but instead add their dice in support of the slingers. Even though the peltasts are fresh, comparable in fighting ability to the drilled infantry, and attacking a flank, the slingers are still the primary opponent for my drilled infantry. If, as happened here, the Illyrian drilled infantry cause enough hits to make the slinger unit break and flee, all supporting units also break and flee. So the fresh peltasts run off the table leaving the bloodied-but-still-standing Illyrian infantry howling n double triumph. I suppose the lesson to be learnt here is not to support a friend who looks like they might break?
Back in the centre, the Macedonian heavy cavalry swept in the deliver a 'supporting' flank charge against the deep Corinthian phalanx block (already engaged against my militia spearmen. We then remembered to look at the 'Collapse Test' rules, which mean that units can flee from the table once the casualties start stacking up across the table. I'm not sure if we played it correctly (I think we did...), but the Corinthian hoplites in support broke and fled after failing their discipline rolls, leaving just one unit left.
The Macedonian peltasts now swept around to the left of the combat and charged the Corinthians in their other flank. In the ensuing melee, these were the dice rolled. That is an unnatural number of 1s on my part, but enough hits were scored to cause the last Corinthians to flee the battlefield.
In reflection after our game, there were things that raised eyebrows, but the game was fun. It flowed really well and there were enough tough decisions to keep us both engaged. The combat mechanisms, for melee and for shooting, are clear, easy to pick up, but nuanced enough to not make every unit handle the same way. Hoplites in phalanx formation are tough nuts!
The rules really do feel like they were written for singly based models with the 'basing agnostic' line thrown in as a bit of an afterthought, but there is nothing in unsurpassable. EF enourages the use of house rules to fix things players don't agree with, but I don't really feel that a player should have to use house rules to fix what is written.
After a quick tea break, Lee and I sat down for another bash. The report of our second game is to follow.