Historical Games Thread

durecellrabbit

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What's the book? I only wanted to comment on what I'd interacted with! The gladiator thing is weird, I think there's some reference to gladiators fighting in one of the civil war battles when Sulla was marching on Rome itself[1], but aside from historicity that should be part of a specific sub-list, not for everyone bar Brutus. But I didn't really associate this sort of ahistorical "colour" with "old fashioned", I suppose.

[1] I can't find it in Appian, and it occurs to me that if I read it in a non-scholarly secondary source it may descend from dubious translation[2]. The Loeb Classical Library translation makes numerous references to "gladiators" where that may be the Latin word used, but from context the meaning is clearly "swordsman" in a more general sense. It doesn't appear in his account of the Colline Gate though.

[2] I've definitely encountered early-to-mid 20th century translations of ancient historians who realize that both English and ancient Greek have multiple words for "long pointy stick" but not that they refer to pointy sticks of different lengths and function or are in any sort of correspondence with each other. "Alexander seized a pike from one of his guards and hurled it at Cleitus..."[3].

[3] Not as bad as the translator of Tacitus who decided every Roman military and political term needed to be converted to its modern-ish British equivalent. "Then Germanicus went with four regiments...".
I've seen that reference to gladiators before but have assumed it's related to be violence in and around Rome rather than part of the field armies.

The ahistorical "colour" options seem to be less common these days. Looking at recent rules with army lists online like To the Strongest or Mortem et Gloriam or the computer game Fields of Glory 2 (Computerised version of FoG) these option tend to disappear.


The book is Classical Greek Tactics: A Cultural History by Roel Konijnendijk. I picked it up, or rather borrow since it's expensive, because the author does a lot of work on the askhistorians subreddit. I've read 4 chapter so far which have covered the histography of classical Greek warfare, training or lack of for Greek soldiers, what sort of battles they fought and where, importance of light infantry and cavalry and how they deployed their formations. The author deal directly with primary Greek sources and later historians and how he draws his answers from them. It's been a very good read so far.

Why are all these ancients games so focused on pitched battle between evenly matched armies on relatively open terrain? Sure, such battles were important, but also rare--a decade passed between the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War and Mantinea, and by the time Alexander had fought three of them he had overthrown the most powerful state in history. Some whole wars went by without a single one. But you also have much more common asymmetric scenarios to play out like forcing/defending a pass, ambuscades, opposed river crossings, withdrawing in the face of a superior enemy, mounted harassment of a marching column, and so on, which are all full-army operations for at least one side and far above the scale of a skirmish game. Its not like these sorts of actions are obscure either, I mean, Thermopylae!
Side effect of making the game suitable for tournament or pick up play I think.
 
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ChariotDriver

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To fast forward the best part of three millenia but stay afloat, I'd also pciked up the pdf for Victory at Sea, which was praised upthread (I need to convince my group to play some of these games...). I don't really have anything to say about it currently, except as a comparison to comment on the importance given to scenarios. Why are all these ancients games so focused on pitched battle between evenly matched armies on relatively open terrain? Sure, such battles were important, but also rare--a decade passed between the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War and Mantinea, and by the time Alexander had fought three of them he had overthrown the most powerful state in history. Some whole wars went by without a single one. But you also have much more common asymmetric scenarios to play out like forcing/defending a pass, ambuscades, opposed river crossings, withdrawing in the face of a superior enemy, mounted harassment of a marching column, and so on, which are all full-army operations for at least one side and far above the scale of a skirmish game. Its not like these sorts of actions are obscure either, I mean, Thermopylae!

Edit: Sword and Spear has a few variant scenarios sketched out at the back, but they aren't a major focus and two of the three are pretty close to open battle, just with particular terrain/deployment constraints.
I think @duracellrabbit has it right and the history of wargaming (and ancients in particular) is influenced a lot by tournament play. As that started to develop, competitive players wanted a rules-set and a game that would give a 'fair' chance to everyone to prove they were a superior player rather than merely having a superior army. WRG started off producing a set of ancient rules that could be both historically accurate and which had point values attached to soldiers so they'd hopefully give a fair chance to each side, others followed suit, and since then it's been a rare game that hasn't gone that way. It's interesting how boardgames (and ancient computer games) aren't so constrained and are much more likely to encourage scenarios or campaign play where a battle could easily have one army be totally outclassed from the start. It was pretty much only skirmish games that continued to largely be about objectives other than defeating the enemy army. Before that happened though campaigns like Tony Bath's Hyboria game and scenarios where doing better than your historical counterpart were much more encouraged, at least according to people I spoke to when I was starting out at Cons in the late 70s and early 80s. Given the large number of historically themed strategy games it should be fairly easy to generate scenarios, although I don't know any strategy game which allows you to take results generated outside the game and input them to the results of your battles.
 

durecellrabbit

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My Romans are done.

Been playing them for a while. I've decided that taking all the legionaries is my best option, they can fight just about anything well except knight class enemies. Unfortunately they are so expensive in point that I can only take a handful of the other stuff. The other stuff is vulnerable to being picked off so it's good I don't take too much of them.

This leaves me with a small elite army that is incredibly vulnerable to flanking, and my tactics revolve getting the legionaries into combat without being flanked, so they can break the enemy before they get flanked. Wish I could dig ditches like Caesar did to protect his flanks.

 
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Thane of Fife

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Given the large number of historically themed strategy games it should be fairly easy to generate scenarios, although I don't know any strategy game which allows you to take results generated outside the game and input them to the results of your battles.
In my experience, this is one of those things that sounds promising, but doesn't work too well. Strategy games are about attacking with overwhelming odds. This generally does not make for interesting tactical engagements.

As for why most games played are pitched battles, I think that one of the main reasons is that most sets of wargame rules focus on maneuver. Defending a river or pass is extremely dull in these sorts of games because such a scenario prevents the main tactical element of the game from coming into play. Dux Bellorum, for example, has a river crossing scenario - it is dull. It essentially means that instead of fighting over a 4' wide table, you're fighting over a 6" wide gap. The game even tries to be more than a maneuver game by requiring that you focus your leader's attention. Guess where it goes. On the units fighting in the gap.

A good river crossing type scenario in a game like this might have something like one side defending a bridge while the other side discovers a previously unknown ford. Now one side has to cross the ford and establish a beachhead while the other side redeploys to block the new crossing point.

In contrast, these sorts of scenarios can work better in computer and board games because games that include them will often have mechanics that are devoted to making them interesting.
 

durecellrabbit

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And they are fantastic! About twenty years ago I painted a Roman army in 5-6mm (Heroics and Ros) but that picture really makes me wish I had done it in a larger scale.
Thank you.

Looking great! Last summer I finished a friend’s Mid-Republic Romans, and this summer he wants Carthaginians to face off, and another player wants Gauls.
Thank you.

You're managing to build your player base well. We're still at 2 regular players (including me) and two several games a year players.

In my experience, this is one of those things that sounds promising, but doesn't work too well. Strategy games are about attacking with overwhelming odds. This generally does not make for interesting tactical engagements.

As for why most games played are pitched battles, I think that one of the main reasons is that most sets of wargame rules focus on maneuver. Defending a river or pass is extremely dull in these sorts of games because such a scenario prevents the main tactical element of the game from coming into play. Dux Bellorum, for example, has a river crossing scenario - it is dull. It essentially means that instead of fighting over a 4' wide table, you're fighting over a 6" wide gap. The game even tries to be more than a maneuver game by requiring that you focus your leader's attention. Guess where it goes. On the units fighting in the gap.

A good river crossing type scenario in a game like this might have something like one side defending a bridge while the other side discovers a previously unknown ford. Now one side has to cross the ford and establish a beachhead while the other side redeploys to block the new crossing point.

In contrast, these sorts of scenarios can work better in computer and board games because games that include them will often have mechanics that are devoted to making them interesting.
One of the games I have (By Fire and Sword) lets the attacking player on its river crossing scenario place a ford on the second turn. The bridge is still worth more VPs than the ford but you now need to defend from another direction.

It also allows for big differences in the size of player armies by allowing weaker armies access to better defensive scenarios, and they can spend the difference in points on on fortification type upgrades and additional effects which are things like delaying some of the stronger player's army or making some of their units insubordinate.
 

ChariotDriver

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One of the games I have (By Fire and Sword) lets the attacking player on its river crossing scenario place a ford on the second turn. The bridge is still worth more VPs than the ford but you now need to defend from another direction.

It also allows for big differences in the size of player armies by allowing weaker armies access to better defensive scenarios, and they can spend the difference in points on on fortification type upgrades and additional effects which are things like delaying some of the stronger player's army or making some of their units insubordinate.
I have been reminded of a rather old game called Seastrike. Before the start of the game - or I suppose as the start of the game - you'd draw a mission card which gave you an objective and a certain amount of points you could spend to attain it. I suppose for a less random effect you could let a player decide on their objective(s) and have a certain number of points allocated to selecting forces, along with how many points achieving that gave you. It'd be really hard to balance though, especially in the ancients era where there's so many different types of soldier and ways of organising an army.
 

Anopheles

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You're managing to build your player base well. We're still at 2 regular players (including me) and two several games a year players.
Luckily I’m not going it alone with boosting FoG and assorted ancients, but it is an uphill fight. I’ve joined a program at my FLGS where I act as a champion for my chosen rules (or in my case, spectrum of historical rules including FoG, Muskets & Tomahawks, and Saga). I run demo days and team battles to show off the games. The current players do a great job helping me out there.

I’ve garnered 3 new Saga players (2 last week!) since I’ve started the Saga Days, and 3 FoG players over the last year. It’s also great to see old players returning when they see the games actually being played.
 
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Scutarii

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To fast forward the best part of three millenia but stay afloat, I'd also pciked up the pdf for Victory at Sea, which was praised upthread (I need to convince my group to play some of these games...). I don't really have anything to say about it currently, except as a comparison to comment on the importance given to scenarios.
If you mean the WW2 naval combat game Victory at Sea that was probaly me. We've been playing it a bit at the club and I decided that I wanted to work out a more fair fleet building set of houserules and ended up going kinda down the rabbit hole of making a points system. It's a bit fiddly - with the points value of certain stats changing based on supplementary abilities and the impact of other linked stats on them - but it's seemed to work out ok.

We also made up a more generic 'fleet engagement' pitched battle scenario (as there are plenty of scenarios in the book and we wanted something to just pick up and play if we wanted) and brought in the land installations from the expansion book, made up some rules for wind direction and smoke and how carriers change facing based on wind and so on.

The club may have gone a touch too far!
 
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