Monday, 24 February 2014

To Ur is Human

"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.


  1. Hi Trebian
    With Sumerian battlecarts I'd favour the battle taxi role. This seems to be how it was done in Homeric times, and when I think about what separates the rich from the poor throughout time, one of the things that comes to mind is the fact that they don't have to walk everywhere!
    Having said that, this isn't my period of expertise, and i guess like everyone and everything we just hold to the theories we find most logical.
    Ancinet Warfare did a special on Sumerian Warfare (AW II.5) and it is available digitally. I don't have that issue, but it is available digitally for a rather small price.
    As to heroic combat, again I haven't read much about it, but does the epic of Gilgamesh shed any light on heroic combat.

    1. I do find the battle taxi thing sort of unconvincing, and the heroic stuff not all that credible. Homer is a collection of things bolted together from different periods and we're using fiction to talk about fact.

      (Waits silently whilst roof falls in as breadth of my ignorance is exposed by bronze age enthusiasts)

      I have the Sumerian bit of AW11.5. it's good, but just exposes more that we don't know how they fought.

      All we have is a picture of men being trampled by battle carts.

  2. I am also unfamiliar with this period . . . but I think that I would look at them sort of like Dragoons . . . a mobile "mounted infantry" type of troop.

    They can get to (and from) places faster, with less fatigue (and more armor) . . . and I like the "intimidation factor" that you are playing with as well.

    Anyway, I wish you good fortune with your work in this period, sir.

    -- Jeff

    1. The dragoon/battle taxi idea is persistent. However it's a lot of kit to get one man into battle, especially when he isn't wearing heavy armour or carrying a weapon that warrants getting lift rather than walking.

      I'll let you know how the intimidation goes.

  3. I'm not an expert, but whilst Homer seems to describe a variety of periods of Aegean warfare pretty accurately, it's thousands of miles and years away from Ur so it's dangerous to draw too many parallels.

    Turning back to the Ur battle carts, some of the few representations we have of them show them trampling enemies. For me that buries the battle taxi notion, and supports your "weapon of shock and awe" (cue John Wayne jokes).

    Of course, as neither of us are trained historians, there's no way that we could possibly get it right anyway, so just enjoy :-)

    1. Actually, I am a trained historian, but not in the ancient period...

      I agree with you on the time and distance argument for Homer, but we have so little evidence that there are straws we clutch at.

      Let's see how the game goes.

  4. I have no idea how the Sumerian battle carts were supposed to work either. It does seem like there are a few ideas, some more convincing than others, but nothing definitive. I am all for whatever rules you may come up with!

    1. Thanks for your faith in me. I've had several goes, but they've really been tinkering round the edges. This Wednesday's game with the Fear rules is the "Great Leap Forward".

      I'm really not sure what the carts do, but I'm fairly sure it isn't what they do in WHAB & AMW. At Natholeon's suggestion I've downloaded a recent translation of Gilgamesh to my Kindle (cost me 77p!!!!) tp see if that gives me any inspiration.

  5. I can see no reason at all why you wouldn't ride over fleeing opponents in your ancient battle taxi ... what's the point of the taxi if not to keep up with and overtake those fleeing enemy. But is there a single depiction of one breaking that formed line? Not that I'm aware of ...

    As for the javelins, I would give any missile weapon delivered from a platform a one-stage better chance to hit. Any period. Most rules writers haven't ridden a Chariot and (so) don't give an edge for the massive benefits of being 8' tall .


    1. Good point on the taxi. On the depictions there's not a lot of evidence at all. Where I'm going with this is that they'll only break a line if the line is less than sure of itself, - hence a Fear Test.

      That's a good point on the javelins as well. We can discuss this on Wednesday over the game.