Friday, 27 June 2014

Fear & Losing in Mesopotamia

First game back from holiday, and for various reasons we're playing on a Thursday.

As CoW is looming the final play tests of "To Ur is Human" are becoming more important, or rather urgent. We haven't played a game for a while, and whilst I was away I was musing on late 19th century warfare and before that I was painting Assyrians. This meant there was a danger I would forget how they worked.

As it proved to be.

Now the rules are in close to final format - just some chrome to work on - I can start putting more terrain back on the table. This meant a game back in the fertile crescent, with irrigation ditches, palm groves, villages and fields.

Here we have a typical land dispute type game. On the right the aggressor city-state is giving those on the left a right see-ing to over some ownership claim on grazing land. To make their point they're going to burn some crops, groves & villages. A scratch force of locals and the provincial "Big Man" ("Lugal") are going to stop them, if they can.

Chris W was in control on the left, Phil on the right.

Phil's army started with a general advance. Negotiating the battle carts across the irrigation ditches at the crossing points meant that careful thinking was required to get them lined up properly. Elsewhere light infantry worked the flanks.

Chris was having none of this, - after some dithering, when he considered just retiring from contested areas - and started to develop local counter attacks, whilst holding onto his threatened objectives.

A nasty scrap developed around Chris' left flank palm grove, as Phil tried to get local superiority over the defenders. Chris rushed up more light troops to support his defenders.This combat would eventually provide a good test of the Fear mechanisms in multiple unit combats.

On his right wing Chris had succeeded in repulsing some of Phil's light troops, but the pursuit was drawing him away from his defensive line. In the middle Phil has pushed a unit of battle carts lead by his Lugal across the canal, and declared a charge on some of Chris' massed archers.

The mere threat of the on-rushing carts was enough to convince the archers they had more important business elsewhere, leaving the carts a square short of two heavy infantry units.

Ordered to counter charge the carts, the heavy infantry were not keen (ie failed the Fear Test) and dropped a fear level. Bad news.

Elsewhere in the centre Chris' Lugal was endeavouring to stage a counter attack to disrupt the advance, using his personal battle cart unit.

Not being one to pass up an opportunity Phil piled into the heavy infantry who had wavered in front of him, and they immediately broke.

Chris' Battle carts stalled in the middle of the table, enabling a weakened unit of Phil's to charge them in the flank. They don't take kindly to this and drop a fear level.

Phil has now been in possession of some squares long enough to set fire to them.

Despite being slightly worried by the flank charge, Chris's battle carts see off their opposite numbers, and charge into a supporting unit of Phil's heavy infantry. Note to self: Make it clear to players that fields with stones marking their outlines do not provide a barrier to battle carts.

The charge does damage and bounces the infantry out of the field but doesn't break them. Phil is starting fires everywhere he can now. He has also got some infantry across the irrigation ditches and is roughing up my infantry (Chris has gone home by this point, so I'm overseeing the demise of his army).

And that's about it. Most of the defenders are broken, dead or in fright. Fires are springing up everywhere. It isn't looking good for them.

Overall, once I'd got my head round what I'd previously written, the game played well. The main issues of dispute with the players have been marked out in the past and represent a difference of opinion on how things should happen. I'm getting the results I want however. A few changes are still required, especially in the pursuit area, I need to put some better troop definitions in the final set of the rules, but I'm good for CoW.



  1. Interesting battle. On the design front, how do you go about reconciling what the players feel proper against your desired results? Seems to me to be a tight rope to walk.

    1. We don't reconcile. We just agree to differ. Then I go and change the rules. We're a fairly honest group. An oft heard phrase is "Well, that's rubbish then". Sometimes it's a fair comment (eg when I've got the odds wrong) sometimes it's because we disagree on the interpretation.

      We have an issue to resolve on how dangerous it is to pursue fleeing troops. We all agree that there should be some risk top the pursuers, it's just how much. So far I went with "quite a bit of risk", but I'm scaling it down.

      The important thin is for the game to provide entertainment, even if people disagree with my interpretation of history. Chariots (or battle carts) are a real conundrum.

  2. The key aspects of this sort of game are ... is it a good representation? Does it give a good game? and ... Is it balanced?

    We usually agree on count 2, and count 3 is seldom relevant: I think, as historical wargamers, count 1 is what it is all about ...

    This one is a good game - and fairly balanced, too.

    Am I yet convinced that it captures the character and threat of pre-chariot battlecarts well? I don't know as I can't say I'm sure what that character truly was - then again, this game makes a good case for one view and is worth the air time for that reason.


    1. I'm not entirely convinced by my current interpretation, either, although I am less convinced by the alternatives.

      My only outstanding issue is the javelins on the battle carts. I'm including them in the melee rather than allowing for a shooting phase for them. That may not be right. However, when we did use them as missile platforms it didn't feel right at all.

      Good to hear you think it is a good game. If the players are engaged it helps a lot.

  3. Now the carts are down to 2 bases, allowing them a (2 dice) fling may not seem as 'wrong' as it once did.

    1. The main issue with the javelin throwing version was the amount of mobility they were given to make them be used as a missile weapon rather than a melee weapon. It might be time to revisit that, as you say.

  4. Amusing - though actually it's 'battlecar', not 'cart' (though I can see where the confusion would arise, what with the 4 wheels. Personally, I just call them chariots now.

    If you're interested in these things then I'm about to launch a Kickstarter to build and test one. VIP backers will get a ride ...

    1. Nigel Tallis? I think I've got one of your books, Mister.

      The use of "battle carts" is deliberate. Sort of an "in joke" with the MNG.

      After doing these games I wrote some long bits in WD's Nugget about the use of the Sumerian vehicle, chariots in general and the transition to horse cavalry. I tend towards the view that these vehicles are different to later chariots, but they should be an effective prestige weapon, due to the expense involved in building and running them. Rules systems where they are sort of a comedy turn doesn't do it for me.

      I thought one of these had already been built, but I'd be intrigued by your project. I shall watch it with interest.