Home Forums Ancients What's your favourite ancients ruleset and why?

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    Avatar photoGoldwyrm

    I’ve played multiple games of Classical Hack,  FoG, and WAB, with a small exposure to Impetus and DBA/M.

    My current favorite may be Hail Caesar. It’s quick and easy. I also like to gamble with an aggressive attack plan. HC can accommodate that gamble if I roll well for command and my opponents roll poorly to respond. Many other rules have matching move for move mechanics that makes outflanking or massing at a point of attack far more difficult due to the helicopter view of the armies.

    However, I may be retuning to WAB, or something similar, just because I’m thinking of going down the dark path of Weird/Mythological Ancients play and the way stats are laid out facilitates incorporating the fantastical elements.

    Avatar photoSane Max

    I have never had as much fun playing ancients as I did playing WAB 1 and 1.5. IMHO a proper ancients game shoudl occasionally leave you weeping with laughter.

    Nowadays I mainly play Hail Caesar, and like it a lot.

    When I want to feel old I play DBM.





    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    I preface these remarks by saying that ancients isn’t my period; I really don’t claim to understand how warfare worked before the invention of the spitzer bullet.

    Back in the old days I played a little WRG 4th edition — especially, I regret to say, using the fantasy supplement in the back, and loads of orcs borrowed from a friend. When I got to university, I pretty soon decided to deny all knowledge of WRG ancients rules, as there were plenty of games to be had in other periods, and it was the only way to avoid second-year law students coming up and saying “What do you think is my best 2,000 point army if I have to beat Sassanids?”, to which I found it difficult to frame a polite answer.

    I still have copies of WRG fifth, sixth and seventh edition, which I read avidly, observing the evolution of ideas in them, but never played. Nobody had the figures, see. Very few of my board wargame collection covered ancients, but I very much enjoyed “Punic Wars”, the folio game that appeared in Strategy and Tactics no. 53, and it was simple enough to teach to non-wargamers. And if anyone remembers the WRG’s foray into board gaming, “Decline and Fall” was good fun, especially if you got the Huns.

    I doubt that many people have come across it, but the magazine “Jeux et Strategie” was in its early editions when I spent a year teaching in France, and their game “Heraklios”, which appeared in no.6, kept me occupied for a while. In more recent times I have enjoyed World Wide Wargamers’ “Ancients”, and I have treated myself to a de luxe edition of Phil Sabin’s “Lost Battles”, but not found the time to give it a go yet.

    The ancients rules I love above all others, though, are DBA. A copy of the first edition went to Saudi Arabia with me in the early 1990s, along with some coloured card cut-out terrain and two sets of counters I had made up to permit each side to choose any army from the lists provided. The whole lot, with dice and measuring sticks,  fitted into a Ferrero Rocher box and a flat A4 folder. There isn’t a lot to do in the way of entertainment in Saudi Arabia, and DBA did a lot over two years to maintain my sanity in numerous hotel and compound rooms. It also had the virtue of being easy enough to teach to non-wargaming friends, and I recall an Australian pal playing his first wargame being massively enthused by the way a line of Marian Roman blades could sweep all before them.

    Apart from its sanity-preserving and easy-teaching qualities, the thing I liked about DBA was that, for the first time in my experience, the way the battles were decided actually seemed to bear some resemblance to all those little maps in Arthur Banks’ “A World Atlas of Military History, vol 1, to 1500”, rather than being a question of two sides lining up, advancing, and spending several hours calculating casualties and morale.

    For the moment all my DBA is played using DBA Online, but I remain very, very fond indeed of DBA. It is a marvel of brilliantly elegant game design, and gives you access to over four thousand years of military history in a few pages of rules. Once I’ve moved house, I really must take a gander at the 3rd edition army lists and get to work on the Buffalo Box full of 1/72nd plastic ancients I have stashed somewhere.

    All the best,



    Avatar photoGreg M

    Thank you, Allen.  I see that there is a PDF version of that issue at the WS&S shop…

    Avatar photoJohn Caboche

    Started off on WRG 5th, however WRG 6th remains my favourite rule set, I’m lucky to have some enthusiastic friends in my group who still enjoy 6th a lot, especially with the new reprints available. Converting a few others to “the old way….” as well….


    Not really played any others, so I can’t comment to be honest, but I’m under increasing pressure from the club to invest in a set of “Hail Caesar”.

    ATB Otto

    Lord of the Garden Shed and Master of the Gravelly Patch.....

    Avatar photoguy osborne

    Whoops wrong area of forum


    Avatar photoBill Thornhill

    My main set for a number of years was WAB, which because of the simplicity made it just fun to play. I only ever played the 1st edition even though I own the 2nd. I was really disappointed that it was wrapped up as it had such a strong community and games were easy to find. There seems to be still a hole there since then.

    I had a gap of a couple of years while I moved to the US and sorted my life out, but now I have the chance to game once more I’ve been playing Saga quite a bit lately. A really fun set of rules that don’t take too long to play. More importantly, being skirmish level, armies don’t take long to paint. I’ll want to start building some bigger armies though in the next few months so I too am looking for a good set of rules. I bought War and Conquest the other month and they look very similar to WAB, but like has been said, simplified. I intend to read these again to see if they might be the ones. Hail Caesar is another option but it looks like I’d need much bigger armies. Impetus too has an appeal because of the elements, which I like.

    Until I choose I’ll keep playing Saga for now 🙂


    "I see lead people"


    Avatar photoAltius

    I’ve played a lot of different rules over the years. At the moment, I’m having a lot of fun with Dux Bellorum for smaller fights and Hail Caesar for the bigger ones.

    I’ve also been experimenting with mods to Dux Bellorum for playing other periods. I like its flexibility.

    Where there is fire, we will carry gasoline

    Avatar photoA Lot of Gaul

    Hail Caesar is another option but it looks like I’d need much bigger armies.

    That is not necessarily the case, Bill. While it is true that Hail Caesar battles look spectacular when played on big tables with hundreds of figures per side, the suggested unit sizes provided in the rulebook were meant to be nothing more than guidelines based on the existing armies used by the author and his friends. In reality, the rules are highly flexible and you can set a standard unit to be almost whatever size you wish, as long as your unit frontages are all reasonably consistent. For example, I have seen AARs featuring Hail Caesar battles played using DBA-sized armies, with some minor adjustments and no apparent difficulties.



    "Ventosa viri restabit." ~ Harry Field

    Avatar photoShahbahraz

    My problem with this and other rule-sets purporting to be ‘big battle’ is the ludicrous ranges for ranged weapons, bow etc. Look at Armati for example, the range for Bow (from memory) is 24″ in 25mm scale. Now that means that the ground scale doesn’t support claims to represent a big battle or large forces. Assume that long bowshot might be 240 paces. (pace it out sometime, it’s a long way). Now look at a Roman legion frontage for 4000 men. At least 500 paces. Now our ‘big battle’ needs a unit representing a legion to occupy 48″ (120cm) on the table. Unless you’re playing in a gymnasium, you are basically fighting skirmishes.

    --An occasional wargames blog: http://aleadodyssey.blogspot.co.uk/ --

    Avatar photoNatholeon

    Given your ‘old school’ credentials Henry, I’d back up what a couple of other’s have recommended with Neil Thomas’ Ancient and Medieval Wargaming. They are a simple set of rules  and just a few small tweaks close up the few holes in them. There is a good yahoo group to support them too. They remind me of the fun I had when I first began gaming. I’ve been a WAB and DBA player and loved both of those rulesets, but lately if I play a big Ancients game I’ve gone with AMW, as players who have never played them before can pick them up remarkably quickly.

    Having said that, I’m starting to use SAGA for Ancients skirmish gaming as well. There are plenty of home-brewed battleboards in the Studio Tomahawk forum.



    Avatar photoTrebian



    I agree with you and said so early on. However the sheer volume of HC/WAB is great made me go back to my cave. Good to see someone else agrees with me. AMW is just great to get started and it is so flexible.



    Avatar photoNorthern Monkey

    For ancients ive used WAB1.5, Warmaster Ancients and Impetus in the past, though I prefer the latter two as I mainly play in 10mm and 6mm these days

    My attempt at a Blog: http://ablogofwar.blogspot.co.uk/

    Avatar photoPhil Robinson

    Another vote for AMW, I too like the simple no nonsense approach and they are easy to amend to suit ones own prejudices if so inclined, these together with Simon Millar’s spectacular Cremona game prompted me to keep and start on my 3rd century Romans I bought a while ago, again the purchase was inspired this time by Phil Hendry’ s splendid collection. I did start way back with WRG, then DBA followed by WAB, Impetus and Hail Caesar. I will no doubt still play the odd game with Impetus and Hail Ceasar in future though, but I find HC a lot more involved than ancient warfare requires to be if I’m honest.

    If you are going through hell, keep going - Winston Churchill

    Avatar photoSimon Miller

    Re Cremona, thanks Phil!

    I would say that the larger the battle, the simpler the rules need to be.  Also when a lot of players are involved, there is much to be said for simple IGO-UGO turns.

    The 3rd Century Romans are a lovely range, and I plan to raise a small army of them in due course.

    Avatar photoTrebian

    Agree on large & simple. I’ve done some big refights with AMW and they’ve all worked well.

    Avatar photoAdam Hayes

    The ancients rules that I have been playing and enjoying for the last 15 years or so are Archon 2, the Piquet period supplement that covers up armies up to around 1200 AD. I thoroughly enjoy the games using these rules for many reasons: there is an inbuilt command and control / fog of war mechanism that eliminates a lot of the predictability of igo ugo turn sequence games. There is also a real ebb and flow of battle which mirrors quite well the descriptions of real actions and causes every game to be an enjoyable, edge-of-the-seat affair, with the chance that things will turn your way however bad the situation that you find yourself in.

    There is also a lot of scope to give different armies idividual character. The troop types within the force can be described by their training grade, armour, allowed formations and the chance on any given day that they will be battle weary or at a fever pitch of enthusiasm for the current fight. (I do like that there is a small chance that your Praetorian elite guard unit will be having an off day or that levied peasant might be feeling well up for it!)  The army as a whole can also have suibtle variation in its character; keener on shooting or getting stuck in, better or worse at formation changes or rallying or superior in close terrain.

    There aren’t many rulesets that would allow a game with the smaller army outnumbered almost 2 to 1 to still see off the enemy by having a superior overall plan and seizing the opportunities when they  presented themselves.



    Hmmm sounding like a bit of a zealot there Ultimately I have found over many years that it is the company not the rules that make for an enjoyable game and I’ll paly whatever is offered if someone has gone to the trouble to organise a game.

    Avatar photoMark Ketteman

    Currently enjoying two rule “systems”. DBA 3.0 is great for quick games and fixes a lot of the things that put me off of DBx. The other is a mash up of AMW and some ideas knicked from Dux Bellorum. Works as for AMW but units have to dice for activation. Added evade rules and made Melee continuous until one side breaks off or is destroyed. My local group (not ancients lovers) seem to enjoy them.

    Avatar photoCardinal Biggles

    Over the years I have tried the lot! Shelves are bulging with Ancient rules I never play…. However, I do keep coming back to a couple of sets…..  For a small quick simple game I like DBA. Can’t stand DBMM though. The rules I am playing more and more are Impetus. Quite excellent, and although they can use ‘standard’ wrg basing if you wish I am probably going to rebase my 28s for these rules. They do need consolidating though, there have been a lot of clarifications, updates and corrections to full Impetus which I would like to see actually incorporated into a new edition.





    Avatar photoreligon

    I like Commands & Colors Ancients the best. Manageable, unpredictable games requiring skill to play that give plausible results.

    I’ve played Warmaster Ancients, Hail Caesar, Might of Arms, AMW, DBx, Impetus, Ancient Hack, WAB, Armies of Arcana, Vis Bellica, Armies of Arcana, Waken the Storm, War of the Rings as a historical games, Fields of Battle, FoG and many others. Only WoTR, Hail Caesar and AMW are marginally good IMO, but I would only wish to play them occasionally despite my love of the period.

    For skirmish, I have played LOTR SBG for ancients and it plays well…rules through the Yahoo LOTR Variants group. While I have yet to do so, SAGA seems like it would also work well for skirmish. Ronin would also adapt well to ancient skirmish also. I’m sure other skirmish games work well also. I have limited interest in skirmish games of this period.

    I own Archon 2, but have yet to play it. As the author is near to my home, I keep hoping he’ll host a game at a local convention rather than having to delve into Piquet on my own. So far, I have had no such luck. They do look very promising for my interest in chaotic rules.

    You know, fightin' in a basement offers a lot of difficulties. Number one being, you're fightin' in a basement! --Lt. Aldo Raine

    Avatar photobobm

    My preferred set (by far) are Impetus.  Really like that the range of outcomes from a melee is so wide.  Keeps everything interesting.  It should be noted that most of the dissenting voices for the system I’ve come across find the range of outcomes to be their main bugbear.

    Impetus…..the marmite option!

    There's 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don't.....

    Avatar photoAltius

    I still haven’t played Impetus yet, but I’d like to. Everyone tells me good things about it. At the moment, I’m having a lot of fun with Hail Caesar.

    Where there is fire, we will carry gasoline

    Avatar photoAdam Hayes

    I’ve only played the basic version of Imprtus, didn’t notice an inordinate number of melee outcomes(?)  Piquet has: Win, Narrow win, Narrow loss,  Loss, Loss and rout, Loss and rout unralliable. Seems like plenty to me.

    Avatar photobobm

    It’s the unpredictability of what the outcome will be as well as the range.  Impetus let’s the full range of possibilities happen….but you can’t stack the odds in the same way you can with other systems I’ve played.  It bugs some who play it a lot.  Whilst I can’t say whether the odds of each outcome are “accurate” I find them to be convincing.

    There's 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don't.....

    Avatar photoSparker

    I’ll add my enthusiastic recommendation for Hail Caesar. Over the years I have played (at least one time) some 20 different rule sets for ancients. HC has a command and control system that models battlefield ‘friction’ in a very elegant way, and helps to keep games from becoming stale or overly predictable. The rules also have a flexible ‘tool kit’ approach that allows me to use just about whatever basing system I wish, and to add special rules that give my units and armies the ‘flavor’ and characteristics that best match my view of how they behaved historically. The rules are also a pleasure to read, and tremendously fun to play. Having said all that, it is also important to note that Hail Caesar was designed primarily for scenario-based play amongst friends in a relaxed, social setting. If your preference is for very precise, tightly written, competition-oriented rules, then HC may not be your cup of tea. Cheers, Scott

    Yup what Scott said goes for me too! With Bells on!

    'Blessed are the peacekeepers, for they shall need to be well 'ard'
    Matthew 5:9

    Avatar photoBrunanburh937

    Unfortunately, all rule sets are a trade-off between accuracy (as far as we can tell at this distance in time) and playability. Consequently somebody’s  favourite rule set is where the two almost mutually opposing requirements best align with the individual’s personal taste. Consequently what I consider accurate and playable (or what I consider to be a happy medium) is probably different to your requirements.

    My greatest pet hate in wargaming are those who buy a set of rules and then religiously and slavishly follow them, without at all questioning the author’s reasoning behind them or interpretation of the nature of warfare at that time. These people are the ones who will argue incessantly with you that such and such a unit should be armoured, elite, steadfast or whatever, without ever having read anything about the subject. I know, that at this distance in time, and with the scarce and often biased sources that have survived the intervening years, that we will never have definitive answers, but we must make use of what we have.

    Army lists are a classic example of this. For instance, the FOG lists for the Anglo-Saxons repeat the standard Select Fyrd/Great Fyrd division of the army, which has no real basis in fact. There was only one Fyrd and it was a fairly homogenous, well trained and effective force (given the restraints of the length of time it could be called out). What most list writers refer to as the Great Fyrd is no more than a general levy of anyone close to the battlefield to fill out the numbers. It was not the true Fyrd or national army. The Wolves From The Sea supplement would have us believe that Athelstan ruled these islands as Bretwalda with a massive proportion of his army being sub-standard levy. It’s just absurd. What I am trying to say is don’t be afraid to do your own research and don’t follow lemming-like those who have bashed out 40 army lists in a month to meet a publishing deadline.

    Following on from this, you can probably guess that I am no fan of tournament play and equal point armies. Historical battles are never fair (campaign generalship is all about getting an advantage for yourself in any battles you fight). Better to have asymmetrical battles where the victory conditions are tailoured for each side. Any battle between Romans and Celts is so biased towards the Romans historically that your battle should reflect that. I once fought a battle where I was Roman and the opponent was Celtic using my own rules (more on that below) where after the initial Gallic assault, the melees degenerated into a classic meat grinder, with the Gauls being the meat. He moaned how poorly his warbands performed and therefore how difficult it was for him to win the battle. To my ears that sounded like a ringing endorsement of the rules system. The balance was that he was not expected to win the battle, just to do better than his historical counterpart.

    Too many ancient rule sets allow commanders the ability to manoeuvre all over the table. the reality was they couldn’t. The main battle line was everything and if it was disordered or punctured, you were doomed. So few rules try to reflect that. In the words of Julius Caesar, “alea iacta est” – once your army is drawn up and committed to the battle events are largely beyond your control. Alexander the Great sought to influence the battle by placing himself at the head of his “armoured fist”, not by sitting in the rear and issuing God-like orders.

    Arty Conliffe’s “Tactica” attempted to recognise this, but had a clunky movement mechanism. I generally hate movement rules in wargames and I hate getting rulers out to measure things. Consequently, Phil Sabin’s “Lost Battles” appealed in its eradication of rulers and its more abstract approach to the the battle while concentrating on achieving a historically valid result. Unfortunately for me, there were too many tables and rules to learn – I’ve watched him effortlessly referee many a game at wargames shows but fear that such an easy command of the rules is beyond me.

    My own set is a meld of Tactica and Lost Battles with a few mechanisms from other sets thrown in. I’m excited to try Sword and Spear that I have read through a few times – they seem well thought out. However my initial impression is that units can still wander about the battlefield with little regard for a formed battle line or the need to secure their flanks. IMHO exposing flanks in an ancient battle should not be a calculated risk by the General that he can live with but a folly for the men on the ground who cannot live with it and are very likely to run away if put in that position.

    I’ve rambled on too much ! What I’m trying to say is that the only way you’ll be happy with a rule set is to gorge your brain with contemporary sources and well researched modern works, and write your own. Nick what mechanisms you like from other people and settle on what works for you. Only then will you get to your own personal intersection between accuracy and playability.

    Avatar photoNick the Lemming

    I’m excited to try Sword and Spear that I have read through a few times – they seem well thought out. However my initial impression is that units can still wander about the battlefield with little regard for a formed battle line or the need to secure their flanks. IMHO exposing flanks in an ancient battle should not be a calculated risk by the General that he can live with but a folly for the men on the ground who cannot live with it and are very likely to run away if put in that position. 


    With S&S, you really need to protect your flanks. If I have two units of similar strengths and abilities fighting, then it comes down to luck of the dice (which reflects how each unit fares on the day of battle, etc). Let’s take 2 medium units for example, so both are rolling 3 dice, and if we have activated both, that becomes 4 dice each. If I now add a unit in on the flank, the original unit gains an extra die for having friends involved, and the unit on the flank not only gains a die for friends and a die for being on the flank, but it also stops the defending unit from being able to use impetus dice. That suddenly becomes a 3 dice versus 6 dice battle and a 3 dice versus 5 dice battle.


    Likewise, if my longbowmen with stakes get charged head on by knights, it’s a straight 3 dice versus 3 dice battle. If those knights charge me in the flank, it’s a 3 dice versus 6 dice battle.


    You really, really need to protect your flanks in S&S.

    Avatar photoBrunanburh937

    Hi Nick the Lemming – you misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the commercial rule sets out there don’t have rules to punish someone foolish enough to expose their flanks, I’m saying that a good rule set should not let you do it in the first place. My rules separate the battlefield into a centre, wings and flanks. The centre is essentially for infantry, the wings for cavalry and the flanks for encircling/out-flanking movements. No Heavy Infantry unit can voluntarily leave the main (centre) battle line, and if it does, defeat is swift (as it was in most ancient battles when the centre was punctured), and not necessarily by enemy action but by a catastrophic collapse in morale!!!

    From what I’ve read in Sword and Spear, because not all units move at the same time, it is very likely that during a battle your battle line of Heavy Infantry will become totally disjointed, either during or after the turn. To me this doesn’t seem right at all. Command and control in ancient battles seems to have been rudimentary. Initial set-up was everything and advances tended to be general advances by trumpet or other signal rather than individual units doing their own thing (except those led by Generals or sub-Generals). I acknowledge that the rules make manoeuvres difficult, but with the right dice throws, units can pirouette all over the place.

    I fully appreciate that many people will therefore say “well what’s the point of ancients wargaming if you have limited control?” I would say – “tough”. If you want to charge around the battlefield doing what you like and having a God-like view of events, wargame another period.

    For me Ancients is all about the spectacle rather than micro-managing, which is why it should either be wargamed as a campaign, or as a battle with asymmetrical victory conditions.

    Avatar photoShahbahraz

    Unfortunately there are a few issues with the approach you suggest. Firstly the celts rolled over quite a few roman armies, and secondly there were. Armies that typically deployed troops other than heavy infantry in the centre.

    --An occasional wargames blog: http://aleadodyssey.blogspot.co.uk/ --

    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage

    My pet hate in wargaming is people telling me if I don’t do it their way I ain’t doing it right

    My favourite ancients rules are still Impetus.


    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Avatar photoMike

    My pet hate in wargaming is people telling me if I don’t do it their way I ain’t doing it right
    My favourite ancients rules are still Impetus.

    That is why I keep this handy:

     photo 4fa28146.jpg

    Avatar photoBrunanburh937

    Doug – I am unaware of any significant Roman reverses involving Celts after the Punic Wars (when Hannibal used them essentially as cannon-fodder). Even the Germanic tribes found them easy to defeat and we have no need to believe Caesar was biased in De Bello Gallico as he was playing down the prowess of the people he did conquer, not lauding them as one would expect. The early successes of the Boudiccan revolt are not set-piece battles and the only time she met a full Roman army in the field, her forces were annihilated! Likewise the Roman later victory at Mons Graupius, and all the victories under Aulus Plautius in the initial conquest.


    Indeed the sudsequent Anglo-Saxon conquest of lowland Britain again demonstrates that the Celts were essentially woeful after about 4th century BC. Certainly, as soon as the Romans perfected their military organization and tactics, the Celtic tribes were no more than a hindrance – Caesar conquered all of Gaul in less than 8 years.


    As regards non Heavy infantry in the centre – true, but rare and nearly always an essentially cavalry army eg Achaemenid Persian or Sassanian.

    Avatar photoJeremy Sutcliffe

    I played WRG Ancients 3rd through to 6th. If it wasn’t for the book keeping up to 20 figures before a casualty I’d have no problem returning to them

    I was never comfortable with DBM. I couldn’t get away from thinking of a number stands being a unit and couldn’t ever get my head round a stand acting on its own.

    I’ve played a lot of WHAB. I have to say that I’ve never not enjoyed a game. (Although we imported a target priority rule from WRG 6th)

    I do like Might of Arms

    I’ve not taken to Hail Caesar although I’m a big Black Powder fan.



    Avatar photoAllen Curtis

    The Helvetian (Celtic) Tigurini, allied with the Cimbri and Teutones, ambushed and defeated the consul Longinus, killing him, the former consul Piso Caesoninus, and most of their troops, at Burdigala in 107 BCE.   This set up the disaster of Aurasio in 105, in which the Tigurini also participated, along with the main forces of the Cimbri and Teutones.


    Avatar photoShahbahraz

    I also disagree with the implicit statement that more complexity = better simulation. In other environments it’s referred to as spurious accuracy. You know, like the Project Manager that brings you budget numbers to two decimal places. You know they can’t possibly be that precise – but it looks like everything has been factored in.

    The whole subject of warfare is so immensely complex, so subject to the vagaries of Clausewitzian ‘Friction’ that it is impossible to accurately model all factors. In Knowledge terms it’s a ‘Wicked’ problem. Classic examples have even migrated into folk memory, like the rhyme around the want of a nail..

    Previous sets of rules, notably those with developmental roots in military simulation, attempted to cover all sorts of technical aspects of warfare, including famously, sets like Tractics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tractics with aspects such as the angle of shot, armour thickness in detail and so on. The problem with this, is that they don’t model the freak outcome, and they have layer upon layer of detail obscuring the aspects you actually want to simulate.

    As a novelist once said in an interview: “I am so limited by comparison with historians, everything I write has to be plausible.”

    Once you accept that the rules cannot possibly cover every single factor and detail of complexity, (the rabbit warren in the path of the cavalry charge, the mares in heat distracting horses, the individual effects of disease, hunger, tiredness, insect bites, poor care of weapons .. etc.) it then becomes a question of what you do want to model. To achieve a playable game there are four aspects I believe to be critical:

    1. It must have sufficient decision points where the player feels they can affect the outcome, (without unduly antagonising their own ability to suspend disbelief). (Game)

    2. The player must feel that any arbitrariness in the rules is not overwhelming (the ‘I drew this card, you lose’ factor). (Fairness)

    3. It must be capable of reaching a satisfactory conclusion in an evening’s play. (Playability)

    4. It must allow the player to believe in the narrative. (Plausibility)

    You make a good point about the general inability in the ancient world for the CinC to do much more than to deploy, issue general orders and possibly, intervene with the critical reserve. But that’s a very dull game. To make it more exciting and interesting, we accept the CinC can do pretty much that, and extend it slightly. To model the unusual event, we make it almost commonplace. In any good set of rules, the writer is fighting to limit the ability of the player to influence events. The player is almost always better read than his historical predecessor, and has much more knowledge of the theoretical capabilitites of his troops. We could have rules, not dissimilar to Principles of War, where the player sends in the Silver Shields and to his horror, finds that they are weaker than the Sparabara they are facing. But this would breach 2.

    Each player will have a differing tolerance for the aspects of the game they can live with. An interesting exercise might be to assign scales to each factor and rate ancients rules accordingly. So for values of 1(low) – 5(high) I could construct a view of DBA for example:

    Game – 5 loads of decision points.

    Fairness – 2 (PIPS can seem highly arbitrary)

    Playability – 5 (yep.. 4 games in an evening is pretty easy to do)

    Plausibility – 3 (hmm… arguable, but between historical opponents, it actually works very well)

    Now ask players what type of games they enjoy and map them on this quadrant.

    --An occasional wargames blog: http://aleadodyssey.blogspot.co.uk/ --

    Avatar photoBrunanburh937

    Excellent post Doug and I agree with everything you wrote. My original post was trying to stir up some debate about what makes a good Ancients rule set and what aspects of ancient warfare should be recreated to make them historically valid as opposed to chess with painted miniatures. I was hoping to break the list of “I play such and such rules” with no explanation why!

    Your rules grading system would be a good way of grading rules in future threads I think.


    My own personal choice is to seek a rule set which is high on Plausibility and Playability. Fairness is not an issue for me. as regards Decision Points, I understand that people want to feel they are in control at all times and that they can react to events and grab a victory, but I think if the game has high DPs is must be low on Plausibility. I try to increase DPs in my games by making the initial set-up more of an issue than in conventional rule sets with rules for scouting, ambushes, flank marches, hidden units etc. Also, because infantry are fairly limited in what they can do and where they can go, skirmishers and cavalry (especially light cavalry) become far more important, especially in out-flanking, sacking the camp, pinning units etc.

    I have not played them, but a mate of mine said that Deus Vult make a big issue of set-up and deployment so I think I’ll check them out at SELWG.

    I hate complex rules too – IMHO the result is important not how long it took you to get there. Victory At Sea is a classic example which essentially delivers the same result as more complex games in a fifth of the time.


    – Allen – thanks, I stand corrected, however such wins were very rare and I think the word “ambush” is a key one.


    – Not Connard Sage – I would never tell someone what to do – my whole argument was to encourage people to do what they want and not blindly follow the rules. If that’s what you want to do then fine.

    Avatar photoSteve Burt

    Doug – I am unaware of any significant Roman reverses involving Celts after the Punic Wars (when Hannibal used them essentially as cannon-fodder).

    Arausio – the Cimbri and Teutones rolled over a Roman army. They were later stopped by Marius at Aquae Sextae.


    Avatar photoHenry Hyde

    Really interesting post, Doug, and much to ponder. I like your idea of a rating system.

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    Avatar photoBrunanburh937

    Allen – the Cimbri and Teutones  were Germanic tribes, not Celtic. And the Tigurini and Helvetii were then beaten at Saone and Bibracte. At Arausio the Roman armies were divided and beaten piecemeal, one after a hasty and poorly executed assault on the Cimbri camp, and the other with its back to the river preventing withdrawal. Of course Celtic tribes scored successes over the Romans, but generally they were not a match for them and a rule set should reflect that. Either by giving the Romans a significant tactical edge or a Command and Control edge, that’s all I’m saying.

    Anyway, this getting a bit off topic.

    The essence of ancient warfare is a fascinating subject with quite a few books published recently exploring it. Phil Sabin’s “Lost Battles” book is very good too.

    Ancient Warfare was more than just who had the better armour or how far a javelin could be thrown. Morale, Command and Control and tactical systems seem to me to have been the deciding factors in the main. There will always be battles decided by ambush or the sheer folly of one or the other General, but the great ancient empires had an edge over their enemies that should be reflected.

    Avatar photoNick the Lemming

    Really interesting post, Doug, and much to ponder. I like your idea of a rating system.


    On the one hand, I agree, it is useful, but on the other, since it’s highly subjective (I’d rate DB* a hell of a lot lower than those for playability, amongst others), I’m not sure it wouldn’t just encourage arguments.

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