|King Pyrrhus of Epirus fights the Romans at the Battle of Asculum 279BC - Giuseppe Rava|
As you will see Steve's verdict is tougher than mine, which just goes to prove, wargame rules are like shoe sizes no one size will fit all people!
So for our little play test Steve prepared two well matched foes from the past, Romans v Pyrrhics using the free army lists provided by Mark on his web page dedicated to this and his other rules
My part of the test was supplying the rules, terrain, two sets of twenty red and blue activation dice. some very small casualty marker dice and a couple of pre made range sticks marked out in DU's (distance units) equal to half the frontal width of our units. There also lies a requirement to playing these rules, in that you need to ensure all units comply to the same frontage, with multiple ranks, such as the phalangites simply indicating a "large" unit. I noticed that Steve had blue tacked his two elephant stands onto a nicely textured combi stand arranged to this requirement.
|The Pyrrhic host with cavalry and elephants on the flanks and their mighty phalanx and supporting hopolites in the centre|
With the size of the army and the cavalry advantage possessed by the Pyrrhic host, Steve, commanding the Romans, adopted a defensive stance and thus it was down to Jack and myself to steer our army into the attack. As part of our test we manoeuvred our troops through terrain we might normally have avoided, just to get familiar with the effects of doing so. Nothing radical here with movement penalties that you would expect for doing so.
|You've got to love a phalanx, just bristling with mean intent|
Each turn consisted of several activation phases as seven dice were drawn unseen from a bag and placed on the table. the majority colour indicating which side has the initiative to move first. These dice are then rolled and the subsequent scores on each indicates what you can do with them.
To activate a unit requires a dice placed next to it being equal to or greater than the discipline number of that unit. most of the Pyrrhics were discipline 4 whilst the Romans were 3 and thus for the Romans ones and twos could normally be discarded. Thus some units were bound not to be activated in a turn and decisions are forced on players as to who to activate and when, as each unit could only activate once in a turn which might leave it vulnerable to enemy activations later in the same turn.
|The cool imperturbable Romans, very well drilled and about their business. Note each unit has the same width|
As you look at the pictures of our game you can see the red and blue activation dice in play next to their corresponding unit and once a unit's activation was completed we left the die next to the units with a one showing to indicate that they had already activated. Very simple and very effective.
|Last few words of encouragement from the Roman commander to his men|
The strength of units varies from 2 for most of our skirmish units to 3 and 4 for the cavalry and heavy infantry.
Then to the base dice are added extra dice according to circumstances and capabilities such as gaining impetus dice, being uphill or striking the rear or flank. When the number of dice are calculated for both sides they are rolled and only four of the best dice scores are selected to be matched up highest vs highest, the next highest vs next highest and so on until four dice comparisons are established. In circumstances where a side has less than four dice to roll it is assumed that his absent dice scored a 2 for the purposes of comparison.
|King Pyrrhus advances and the skirmish battle begins|
Discipline tests require the owner to roll a die against the discipline of the affected unit looking to score equal to or more than that number or take a hit with attached generals helping the cause by one
Once the number of hits are equal to or more than the strength of a unit, it is routed and removed from the table, possibly causing neighbouring units to take discipline tests in response.
Again a very simple but very effective mechanism that we all had our heads around fairly quickly and had us weighing up our options in the game in practically no time.
Of course routing units leaving the army takes its toll on army morale as well as removing an activation die from the bag, so both sides are seeking to up the pain for each other whilst avoiding any attempted payback.
All good stuff.
|Roman velites threaten the flanks|
However with a strength of just 2 most of our skirmish units were extremely brittle when trying to resist casualties, be that from shooting or worst still melee. Within a few moves both sides had taken out a couple of these units leaving the centre ground devoid of skirmish cover and due to the army morale loss forcing both sides to pull in their skirmishers and let the larger units take the lead.
Before writing this post I thought I would check out the forum to see if others had already commentated on this aspect and it would seem it is part of the design, speeding up the contact and demise of these units that other games take more turns to resolve or forcing players to use these units as ambush forces, attacking flanks or rears or using them as bait to try and draw units away from support by evading attacks and leaving the enemy unit activated and exposed to subsequent attack by other units.
I am not sure that this is a good simulation of the role of these troops in the battle line where we would have expected them to have been inflicting annoying if not devastating damage to the opposing line prior to contact, whilst also trying to stop their opposite numbers doing the same thing.
|The centre ground so recently occupied by a skirmish line was suddenly empty|
|Range sticks indicating DU's (Distance Units) based on the frontal width of the units were prepared prior to our game|
To move our Pyrrhic army along we opted for joining up several units in base to base contact to form groups, but on further reading I think we may have done this wrong as we should have attached our generals to the central units to do this. Be that as it may our phalangites coalesced into two principle groups and trundled up to the Roman line, whilst the cavalry and elephants attempted to occupy and threaten the Roman flanks and rear. The elephants struck first by taking advantage of a double six allowing them to leap ahead and smash into a Roman cohort.
The subsequent melee saw the Romans take advantage of some rotten Pyrrhic die rolling and soon had the advantage of casualty count which with a 3 strength elephant on 2 hits required it to break back from the combat to try and rally off the hits, only to find that we could only rally off one hit each turn. Needless to say the elephants got parked and we moved on with other units.
|The elephants start to take casualties from a hail of pila. The little red dice indicate casualties and the elephants are one away from destruction|
This flank ended up facing off as attacks developed elsewhere.
|As the elephants battle away the Pyrrhic line attempts to close with the cavalry attempting to turn the Roman flanks|
The subsequent combats between the two groups saw the Romans gain the upper hand in the combats with Jack's unerring ability to roll low at the worst possible time persisting to the end.
|The look of a Sword & Spear battle in full sway, with blue and red action dice next to activated units. The other multicoloured dice are for combat and morale rolls|
There we ended our game in time to discuss our thoughts over a drink.
I thought I would sleep on the game and read the forum before capturing my thoughts and now, the next day, have had a little time to consider the play.
The first thing I always consider when weighing up new rule sets is to look at my fun/not fun, game/simulation assessment and based on just one play I see Sword & Spear as erring on the fun/game end of the spectrum.
The activation sequence is the core to these rules and made a very enjoyable game as we started to understand the nuances the different dice combinations offered each side. The combat mechanism was also readily understood and we became quicker at assessing the results as the game progressed and seem to give a representative model of the combats we were playing. Both these aspects really ticked the fun aspects for me and are in my mind the best aspects of the rules.
The skirmish rules have moved my assessment away from the simulation to the game rating for these rules, as I can see from the forum discussions that players are adopting strategies to make good use of their skirmish units taking into account their built in frailties. Whilst I can see that could add to the fun aspect of playing the rules in trying to master these strategies, I am not convinced that they model the role of these troop types sufficiently well to give a simulation. I am one of those players who wants more of the simulation in my play than not and on that basis would probably not play Sword & Spear regularly, but based on just one game would play them happily on the spur of the moment for a relaxed fun ancients game. They are a set of rules that lend themselves to straight forward house rule adaptations and I would incorporate those in my own games, and I think there is a market for this set of rules.