"To Ur is human" is the working title for the revamped set of Akkadian/Sumerian rules. Whilst still using some basic AMW mechanisms I'm moving further and further away from the core game, driven partly as its simplicity is now creating more problems than it solves and also due to the inner restlessness of my wargaming soul.
The move to squares was the big step as it creates a different feel for the game. The game set in the mountain region we played last also focused my thoughts on what sort of victory conditions I wanted, and destroying villages and crops feels like an important part of early Sumerian warfare.
What is frustrating me at the moment is the battle cart problem.What did they actually do on the battle field and how effective were they? Evidence is that their use faded over time, not due to the arrival of the horse, but as campaigning moved into difficult terrain. That makes sense but I think the evidence is for their general falling out of favour for anything other than sending messages between the far flung parts of the empire.
As a battle field weapon we are not as one within our little group. My view is that they must have been an effective battlefield weapon against their contemporaries as they represent a considerable investment of time and effort. Using an economics based argument as opposed to a historical one is unusual for me, but I think that in any organised society there's only so far you go with vanity projects before you realise you're wasting resources. Thus I think we need to find a way of them being, at least from time to time, a devastating weapon. Of course, they could just be a pursuit weapon once infantry have done their job as cavalry have often been down the centuries.
Phil's view is that you can't look at them in respect of any later context and just have to accept that they were better than what went before, rather than being definitively a brilliant thing in themselves. He has a good point and I can see how that works for movement. Thus, based on the wheel base and the likely difficulties arising from the way the animals are yoked and controlled, I have given them a wider turning circle than all other troops and made them faster than infantry, but a bit unpredictable (as Neil Thomas does and also Warhammer Ancients). Thus they can get about the battlefield quite well, but not as well as later cavalry or chariots. That seems to work fine to me. They're also not that good over rough terrain or irrigation ditches.
So far, so good, but that's the non-contentious bit. The problem is the combat role and effectiveness. I think we all agree that they'd be okay chasing broken foes, so that's easy. All I have to do is change the combat system so units break and retreat as well as just losing bases, and give battle carts +1 in pursuit, or something similar.
Next up is the "battle taxi" argument, - ie that they are just used to deliver a hero to the front line for combat. I'm not seeing a lot of Sumerian evidence for heroic combat, so I think that this idea can be left on one side for the moment (I admit to not being too well informed generally on bronze age heroic warfare, so I may be sadly mislead in my thinking here).
One option I have tried is to have them as missile platforms. The riders are shown with throwing spears or javelins, and these seem to be in the quivers in the illustrations we have. However, giving them all round missile ability and allowing them to gallop up, throw, then gallop away didn't fit with the slightly awkward notion we have of them. Especially when you compare them to Egyptian chariots or even the modern reconstructions of the Ancient Briton variety. Given that I'm inclined to believe that javelins are thrown ahead as a preliminary to combat.
That leaves me with what happens in melee. I've tried ramping up the dice (too powerful) and leaving them normal (pointless). They're not knights in armour, but they're not useless. What to do?
My latest thinking is that I'll look at them as a terror-type weapon. Poorer quality troops run the risk of being intimidated by a frontal charge, and if they lose cohesion, it could be quite bad news for them. Similarly, if the shield wall or hedge of spears stand firm it's quite bad news for the donkey men.
So I have put in a Fear Test for this Wednesday's game. When units charge each other we check to see which side, if either, is intimidated. If you're intimidated your opponent gets more combat dice. I'm using the classic Fight/Fright/Flight analysis for the moment, and basing the roll on a unit's morale class.This means I can give the Battle Carts a low basic number of dice, but give them a good chance of "spooking" levy type troops, and getting extra. At the extreme end of outcomes the levy might just turn and flee.
If this experiment looks like it works I'll look at morale classes in general. Currently only Battle Carts are Elite, and I wonder whether the Royal Guard infantry should be similarly classified.
Much food for thought.
And I haven't even got to victory conditions yet.