EXCERPT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rolling Thunder

The chariots roll forward as the Greeks emerge from the river with their ranks in disorder.

On Sunday, bleary eyed from being up early to serve as Gofer to Kathy, the Canine Midwife, (5 girls, 1 boy all healthy thank you, average weight 190 grams, each fits comfy on the palm of 1 hand), I ran through my Halys scenario. It went as expected, a struggle at the river bank with some units being initially repulsed but eventually weight of numbers telling and a crossing being forced. At this point, I evoked the Eclipse and turned my attention to the rules. These had worked OK. In fact, they were pretty much what I had in mind last year when I started writing them but I've done a lot of thinking over that year. In particular I have pondered questions about how to represent "friction", the type, placing and amount of randomness, double jeopardy, and the question of intuitiveness. Without changing the core ideas behind the system I set to work.

Now, before I go farther, let me say that there is nothing really original in these rules, just a lot of borrowing and reusing of old ideas put together to please myself. The core idea is one of a small number of troop types classed for effect by usual tactics rather than weapons and armour though these naturally tend to go together. Originally, I used one of my old standards, an initiative roll with the players taking turns to move and resolve combat, and variable length moves (the previous one  being a card driven system). After playing Charge! recently, I am once again been intrigued by old fashioned  simultaneous moves and combat. Since I don't find this works as well played solo, I compromised and went with Igo/ugo movement but simultaneous shooting and melee. I had strayed again into the land of morale tests to resolve combat and this was the first thing that didn't quite sit right, whatever the underlying theory, at the end of the day, a morale test is basically a die roll that either confirms or contradicts the die rolls made during combat.    

The 2nd issue was that the Generals just did not have enough of a command role in the game. They were good for boosting morale and could urge a slow unit to move faster, but really, an army could function quite well without one thanks.

In the past, I normally used both a command control test and variable length moves. This meant twice the rolling and often a successful command roll could be followed by a pitiful movement roll, essentially negating the first roll.  The command roll was susceptible for modification to reflect the quality of the general and of the troops as well as taking account of the situation, thus while things didn't always work the way the general wanted, he could take steps to increase the chances of success and if doing his job, could see can when he was better off not attempting something unless he was desperate. Despite periodic efforts to allow for more input, the variable movement rolls either remained purely random or became very burdensome to operate, especially if combined with a separate command control roll. I've been using some form of command chart to limit players and introduce friction since the early 1980's while the variable moves only go back to about 1994. To simplify things, I had dropped the command roll for the Gathering but since the degree of randomness was beginning to remind me of Parchesi, I decided to reverse that decision and go back to a command control chart and fixed length moves.

The command control chart was not my old one though. That one had focused on the personality of sub-generals and unit commanders and instead is more akin to that used in Fire& Fury, essentially combining morale, friction and the influence of the General, all in one chart. This nicely dovetailed with removing the post-melee morale test with fixed results. If a unit isn't broken immediately, there is a chance that the initiative rolls and command rolls will alter the situation  before the next round of melee, a defeated unit might rally or might flee prematurely or a shaken pursuer might falter, so its not as predictable as it might sound. As always this led to various collateral changes but at last I had a working draft so I reset the table and played again.

Due to life's little interruptions, the game was played in about 5 short sessions over 2 days, probably 3 hours or so though its hard to tell, especially as there were pauses to fiddle with the rules. I have no idea how many turns I played, some were very fast. My best guess is that the game lasted about 20 turns. Once again things went pretty much as expected but this felt less like a "game" and more like a "wargame". What does that mean? I'm not sure, its an emotional or sub-conscious reaction not an analytic one but one which I should pursue since its not the first time that I have felt it one way or the other.

So, back to the game. It was of course based loosely on Alexander's crossing of the Granicus, greatly scaled down (something on the order of 12 figures representing 2,500 men) and with the armies swapped out.
All cavalry and light troop units were 12  figures strong while massed infantry units were 24 strong. The Lydians fielded a unit of Elite shock cavalry, a 2nd unit of shock cavalry, 2 units of skirmishers, 1 with sling, 1 with bow, 2 units of light infantry and 4 of phalanx infantry (3 of them being armoured).  The General commanded on the right, a sub-general controlled the phalanx and light infantry and another commanded on the cavalry and skirmishers on the left.  The Medes defended the river bank with 3 units of Medium cavalry, 1 with bow and spear, 2 with javelins, a unit of light horse archers and a unit of 3 shock chariots.  The General took charge here. In the rear was a sub-general with 2 units of infantry with bow and spear standing behind a shield barrier and 2 units of skirmishers.

For the Medes to win an all put victory they had to hold the hill and force the invaders back across the river but as long as they held the hill at the end then it would be a minor victory.

The red dots indicate shaken units, the little green dice are hits on units based without singles.

The Lydians struggled with the river crossing, the Mede cavalry holding the river bank on the wings so that the Lydians were disordered by being in the river. Initially, all of the attacks were repulsed but the Medes declined to follow up into the water and eventually the 2nd or 3rd Lydian attacks forced their way onto dry land.

Its hard to shoot a well focused shot when you are running for your life from scythed chariots!

In the center, the Mede chariots had hung back, hoping to be able to strike the Greek mercenaries before these could reform on the river bank. The dice gods favoured them and it worked, the disordered phalanx led by the sub-general broke and scattered or were cut down.

The pursuit across the plain.

As more and more Lydian units climbed out of the river, the Persian commander was faced with a choice to either keep trying to push units back and risk losing the rest of his battered cavalry units or pull back as many as possible to protect the flanks of the infantry. He decided on the latter course, praying to the Great Cat-God  Minnou to cover his retreat.

Minnow appeared suddenly, rolled on the Greek light troops and pushed the chariots slightly closer to their baseline before departing gracefully. 

While the light troops and cavalry bickered on the flanks, the phalanx slowly reformed and rolled forward. (They suffered a string of 1's and 2's and it took all of their General's powers of force and persuasion to get them into order and drag them forward ). As they approached the hill, a storm of arrows "darkened the sky" but the Greeks were well armoured and stormed forward crashing into the shield barrier. This was one of the moments I has been eagerly awaiting, unarmoured Persiand uphill and behind cover vs an armoured phalanx.
C'mon lads, one more push!

Initially, neither side could win an advantage (equal hits) but the Lydian general scored a hit while his Mede sub-general opponent was pulled from his horse and butchered. In dismay the Immortals fell back shaken.  Off to the side, the Mede chariots had crossed over behind the main Mede line and had advanced again, wheeling in towards the Greek flank as the skirmishers held back their counterparts.The battle hung in the balance.

The initative dice rolled out...the Medes grab the initiative. Will the Immortals falter? No they rally! Will the chariots hold back? No,  the chariots slam forward into the flank of the phalanx, already engaged frontally. Moments later the Greeks broke, routed back through the unit beside them and suddenly the whole line collapsed. The Lydian invasion had been repulsed. Just.

This chariot driver has been waiting for 35 years for this moment!
The rules are now available on google docs.


  1. Great report Ross - and nice to see your elderly chariot driver finally getting his moment of glory!

  2. Cracking looking battle. The photo of the scythed chariots about to hit the greek line...lovely!!

  3. Excellent, especially with the titan feline!!

  4. Excellent report and discussion behind the thinking that went into the rules.

  5. Ross,

    Do you envision using your latest command and control concepts with your other rules, or do you feel this is more applicable only to this period?

    Also, the appearance of your cat reminds me of what my dog did when I was visited by a nurse while recuperating at home from back surgery. She was busily typing on her laptop when my schnoodle (schnauzer+poodle mix) suddenly jumped up and laid down on her keyboard--just wanted to be part of the action, I guess. I thought it was rather amusing, although I'm not sure she felt the same!

    Best regards,


  6. Thank you gentlemen for the kind words.

  7. Chris, Odd you should ask this.:) For the last 2 years I have been pulling the variable moves out of my horse and musket rules and putting them back, but I was doing so from a practical POV not a theoretical one.

    I first adopted the variable moves for skirmish games and then started applying them at all levels as an alternate to other command/activation mechanisms. I am slowing coming to see that as an error. The higher of the chain you go, the more things should average out since the times frames tend to be longer and the distances moved tend to be out of whack with theoretical time frames anyway. A subordinate might be slow getting off the mark but once they start moving, the rate over 20 minutes is fairly predictable unless there is a issue such as enemy involvement or terrain (which it is the general's job to seek knowledge of in advance) and whether the troops arrive at their destination in 15 minutes or 21 minutes shouldn't be the issue. Given the greater discipline and subordination of Horse and Musket armies, the unexplained randomness of things should be even less, so yes I have already started reworking the Horse and Musket rules. They'll stay for skirmish games and for the 16thC.