This month’s review is Ancient and Medieval Wargaming (AMW) by Neil Thomas. This is not only a wargame rule set but an introductory primer on all things Ancient and Medieval.
AMW is a hefty 288 pages long. The book is divided into sections covering various historical periods. The periods covered are Biblical, Classical, Dark Age and Medieval. Each section includes an essay covering the period covered as well as a breakdown on the troop types used in the section. Each section also has a set of rules, army lists and a battle scenario appropriate to the period covered. The rules themselves are quite simple and only cover a few pages. The lists are pretty comprehensive and cover enough ground that if your favorite army is not listed, you could easily devise one.
There are some color pictures in the book in the center. They are of various figures from various time periods but are probably not of AMW games in progress. They serve as eye-candy and inspiration only.
There is no formal setup rules in AMW. Rather, it is up to the players to agree upon the terrain to be used and the order of setup. Games in 15mm are fought on a 3′X4′ board. Relative board sizes are not covered in the rules but you can find suggested board sizes by figure size in an appendix at the back of the book.
Units are comprised of 4 stands and armies are comprised of 8 units. The army lists give you options so that you are not fighting with the same army every time. With the Carthaginian list for instance, you can fight with 0-2 elephants. Speaking of elephants and scythed chariots, these are the only units in the game that are a single stand. They still count as a unit so if you have several special units, they may make your army look a little small.
AMW is a simple IGO-UGO system that has the feel of an old school wargame. The turn order is as follows:
Movement is done by the active side. He may move any/all units he chooses within the limits of the movement allowances. Turning is a bit vague in the rules but after reading some commentary from Neil in Battlegames magazine, I suspect that a unit turns about the center and does not wheel around a corner. Units armed with javelins or cavalry armed with bows may shoot and move. All others may not shoot if they move in a turn. Javelin armed cavalry may split move and fire and javelin armed troops may defensive fire if they are charged and the charge was initiated outside the firing range of the unit. This is a game balance rule so that javelin troops may get at least one shot off before it gets meleed.
Missile armed units may shoot during the shooting phase if an eligible enemy is in range and the unit did not move. Each unit gets 1 die per stand left in the unit. Each die that comes up 4+ is a hit. The target gets an armor save based on the armor worn. For instance, a unit with medium armor would get a save of 5+ for each hit scored. A successful save negates that hit. For every 4 hits scored on the target, a stand is lost. Pretty simple.
Units in contact at the end of a movement phase will melee. Multiple units may contact a single unit but only one unit on each facing may melee. So, 1 unit may attack from the front and another could attack from the flank. Therefore, up to 4 units may melee a single unit. The number of dice rolled per stand is variable and is based on the match-up determined by a table. For instance, heavy infantry attacking auxilia infantry would get 2 dice per stand while the auxilia would get 1 per stand in return. Like missile fire, roll the appropriate number of dice. For each 4+, a hit is registered. Roll armor saves as appropriate. Every 4 hits on a unit causes a stand loss.
Morale is the last step of the melee phase. A unit must take a morale check for each stand lost. For each failed morale check, another stand is lost. Note that hits carry over so this is a whole stand lost. It is possible to lose 2 stands out of four in melee and then fail 2 morale checks for the two stands lost thus eliminating a whole unit in 1 turn!
No ancients game would be complete without special rules for troop type and AMW has them! There are rules for a phalanx which allows a unit to gain a bonus to hit until the first stand is lost. Then it is assumed that the phalanx has disordered. Warbands and charging heavy cavalry get an extra die per stand on the first round of a melee. Auxilia and warbands fight well in rough terrain. Hits by elephants and scythed chariots cannot be saved. Scythed chariots are destroyed at the end of a melee round. There are other rules I have missed but these are the main ones.
The game ends when one side has lost 75% of their units. Losses come in the usual way, through melee and shooting. There is also another way to lose troops. If a heavy infantry unit voluntarily leaves the board on the enemy side, the enemy player must remove 2 of his units from the game. This is presumably because that unit has gone to loot the enemy camp. The game can end from this maneuver.
Under The Hood
The game is mechanically sound with some tried and true “old school” game mechanics. However there are some curiosities in the rules regarding troop classifications that left me puzzled.
The phalanx is a one size fits all benefit. Hoplites and pike phalanx seem to fight with the same rules so it is possible for a hoplite phalanx to win head to head against a pike phalanx. It is well documented that the pike phalanx could generally drive most non-pike armed infantry back when fighting from the front but seemed to lack the short term knock-out punch required to be a decisive arm. A good differentiator is to have the hoplites fight with a 3+ to hit as per the rules and when the first stand is lost it fights as auxilia with a standard chance to hit. For the Pike phalanx allow a 3+ armor save and a standard chance to hit. They would revert to medium armor after the first stand is lost.
The Republican army seems to be a bit under armored. The list allows for a unit of Triari with heavy armor and all other troops are medium armor. I would think half the available heavy infantry could be heavy armor. As this is an entire army, I would not differentiate Triari from other troops.
Macedonian heavy cavalry are also rated as having light armor while other armies such as the Republican roman heavy cavalry have medium armor. Huh? What? Adjust appropriately.
I would think that all missile troops could move and shoot in the same turn. Formed archers normally hit on a 3+. You might make them hit on a 4+ if they move.
Finally, some units may break-off from combat after one round of melee. You would think this would be part of a normal move carried out in the movement phase. However, this rule is actually written in the melee phase giving one doubts as to when you can do this. In one game I played a while back, I did this move as part of the movement phase and it worked great, allowing light cavalry to slowly give ground and shoot at the enemy as it fell back.
There is a fan based support forum at Yahoo. The author does not frequent the group so many of the answers you get will be “This is how I do it”. However, it is still a useful forum to ask questions and share ideas.
The battles fought were a bout with Pyrrhus vs Rome, Greece vs Persia and Carthage vs Rome. The Pyrrhic battle went to the Eperiot side as Rome pretty much rolled like slop. Not much to say here except that by the time the Romans cut through the first stand of Macedonians, they had sustained a lot of damage. There is a rule that the Romans can deploy in a deep formation and gain bonuses to hit and morale. I do not like this rule because it actually makes Rome less flexible. The Macedonians, by contrast, have no such reason to deploy in a deep formation.
The Marathon battle went to the Greeks as it was a very predictable win. The archers scored very few hits against the heavily armored Greeks before the lines closed and the Persians were dispatched.
Zama was a little odd looking. The Romans looked the part with 4 units of infantry, 2 units of light infantry, 2 units of cavalry. Carthage was a bit more problematic. They had 2 elephants, 2 cavalry, 3 heavy infantry and 1 light infantry. The battle started with the elephant charge. One of the elephants broke through and attacked the Roman heavy line destroying 1 unit and depleting another before it was destroyed. The Romans won on the one flank while Carthage won the other with their respective cavalry. It was the Carthaginian center that did enough damage to dispatch the remaining Roman units. Narrow Carthaginian victory.
AMW is a simple game. I have outlined some of the various inconsistencies and vagaries of the rules in the previous section. This is clearly a game. It is a lot of fun to play and is great for some quick, medium sized battles that look great on the table-top. It is a fantastic introductory book for ancient and medieval warfare. For anyone interested in getting into this period, I would highly recommend picking the book up. It is also a great rules set for kids and for getting your unsuspecting friends into ancient gaming. Folks that prefer the more complicated games on the market will probably not like this book.
Ancient and Medieval Wargaming by Neil Thomas at Amazon.com