The thing about being an internationally famous blogger with a massive following is that not only does everybody hang on your every word but you also have people give you loads of free stuff.
Or so I’ve heard. Until that happens I’ll just have to put up with Pete Berry of Baccus letting me have the odd thing to look at. At Derby he handed me a copy of “Polemos SPQR” the recently published version of Polemos written to cover wars fought between classical period Romans and their various enemies and of course themselves with a request that I review it for him. I expect he wanted me to put something in Slingshot, which I will do, but the blog allows for almost instant gratification.
This version of Polemos is written by David Headings, who is a co-author of the ECW version, so this is his first solo flight. My experience of Polemos prior to now was limited to the first edition of the ECW rules which I have to admit didn’t go well but that may have been due to the circumstances, - first game, lots of people, one rule book, umpire not knowing what was going on. So I’ve never really gone back to them as an idea in spite of the fact that they are basically Pete Berry’s biggest rules idea since “File Leader”, and I am a fan of “File Leader”.
So I took the book and read it through. In a way it is difficult to know what Baccus think they’re trying to do here. They’ve published a set of rules into a period that is already crowded and in which the established model is to produce rules that cover every war post stone age and pre gunpowder. These cover a restricted period, - probably 300 years at most, and don't cover all the ranges they make. They don't even cover the Punic Wars. No one does that sort of thing anymore, if they ever really did. However this is probably another way of Baccus setting itself slightly apart from the mainstream as its unique selling point. Plus you might actually get a set of rules with some period flavour. After all Baccus publish separate rules for the Great Northern War and the War of Spanish Succession. Best of luck to them all I say.
The rules are cussedly set against conventional rules in other ways. There's no points system, no army lists. The idea seems to be that armies are generated randomly within set parameters. The rules are mostly clear, with good examples, and mostly free of legalese. They also avoid the bloke-iness of Black Powder that wastes space and achieves very little.
So we set up last Friday and tried a game of Romans v Germans. First up everyone had a good time and agreed that the game looked like an ancient battle and certainly had a coherent ebb and flow with thankfully little obsession over small details that bedevil other rule sets. We had a few head scratching moments whilst I flicked backwards and forwards through our only rulebook looking for answers that may not be there. After all we're used to FoG and Armati where you get a lot of rules covering everything and the answer is in there somewhere.
Polemous as a system is different and does play in a different way to most other sets. Some bits of other systems are probably buried in there, but they are mostly original. A complete wargames newcomer with no preconceptions would probably not struggle where we did. Existing fans of Polemos will probably have no issues at all. If you're not familiar with the system then there's a few things to draw to your attention:
Tempo: Control of who goes first ("controls the Tempo") is key to the game. Players have a number of control or Tempo points each turn. These are used to issue commands and also to determine who goes first. Players make bids to control the turn and these bids reduce their pool of points to make units do things. However, once a unit or group of units is given orders it does what it has been ordered to do until you give it orders to stop. This gets round the DBA PIP issue where units just stop in the middle of the battlefield completely at random when you roll a one. There's an elegance to the sytem that is quite appealing. The way Tempo points have to be spent force units into certain unit formations and groups and limits their course of action whilst not hamstringing them completely. Ingenious.
Charges: Charging is treated as a type of ranged combat, - ie it is dealt with in the same phase as shooting - as it affects the target from a distance before you get to hand to hand combat.
Base Sizes: Movement is determined in terms of Base Width (BW) & Base Depth (BD) so as long as your stuff is based up consistently it'll work with these. We used 15mm figues on 40mm wide bases and it worked fine.
The rules are sometimes imprecise when describing how things work differently with units, bases and groups (two of these are the same thing, and one is not) so they'll never be used for competitions in their current format but that doesn't bother me.
Last point is on the layout and style. The examples in the rules are very clear, with straight forward diagrams and explanations. They have the obligatory colour photo section, but at least they show figures being used in the game and aren't gratuitous eye candy. They are clearly set out with a good contents list and clear headings so you can find stuff dfairly easily. They retail for £15, which is about par for the course for this size and style of rules.
In all honestly I would not have bought these rules myself, so I'm grateful for the chance to give them a run through. We're intending to have another go on Wednesady, so I'm clealrly favourably impressed. They're definately an interesting alternative to a lot of what is out there, and I'd suggest if you want something a bit different you give these a go.