Sunday, 29 March 2015

Society of Ancients Battle Day 2015

As trailed in the last post this Saturday I was up slightly earlier than usual to head off to Sycamore Hall in Bletchley for the annual Society of Ancients Battle Day.

This event has been running for 13 years now and this year it reached new heights. Even with one game dropping out there were 16 games on display using 14 different systems. More on them later.

On arrival the hall was a mass of activity with people unloading terrain and toys. Luckily Hydaspes was fought on an open flat plain so no real challenges on the terrain front for anyone.

After initial set ups there's usually a talk from some one eminent. On this occasion it was Professor Phil Sabin who went over the different views on Hydaspes. This was followed by a Q&A, where Phil was joined by Duncan Head, author of "Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars" (which still ranks as the definitive work on armies of the period). Duncan also wrote the very good article on Alexander's army at the Hydaspes in December's Slingshot. If you don't have a copy of that, you should seek it out from the SoA stand at the next show you attend. Or buy it on line.

After that, a quick zip round the other games, before we started on our own.

This is Big Battle DBA 3, put on by an old friend, Martyn Simpson. It was busy all day, with a lot of interest it seemed.

This is one of the two Command and Colours games on the day. I think both won prizes for something or other. I've played C&C and it is certainly fun with some intriguing mechanisms. I find it a bit too board gamey to make me want to play it on more than a one off basis. And at the price it sells at I won't be buying my own copy.

I wasn't familiar with "War & Conquest" (shows I don't get out much) but it's a Warhammer Ancients second generation game I think. The rule book is all gloss and pictures with the normal blocks of meandering text that takes 5 pages to tell you that you roll some dice and add on factors. On the positive side all the army lists & QRF are supposedly available on the supporting website so once you've bought the book that's your total spend on rules. It looked horribly heavy going and clunky. I guess if you like that sort of game then it's the one for you.

This is "Lost Battles", run by Phil Sabin. This churned over a few times on the day, with Phil making copious notes as it went along. It had a coterie of fans and was well liked it seemed. Phil had used LB as the basis for some of his talk earlier on. I like the LB book a lot as I've said before, but I do find the rules a bit soulless and Phil has dealt with a number of the problems wargames rules grapple with by just raising the level of resolution so they are not relevant.

Comitatus was a completely new game for me and I didn't see it played either. I've probably missed it as it's a set of rules for the Dark Ages. Fairly pointless having this picture here really.

Vincent Auger, who is usually to be seen with the Armati boys, was here with his own rules. Which were written in French. That'd give him an advantage over the people he was playing I'd guess.

This is the other Command & Colours game. The hex grid on the playing surface is very subtle. They were also using a mix of figures, including Indians from the same Hat range I was using.

This is Duncan Head's take on the battle which used DBMM and followed Hammond's interpretation which has the battle as an overwhelming attack on the Indian left whilst the rest do nothing. Given this position he really only needed half the table and didn't need most of the Indian infantry.

Finally of the games I photographed this is Armati in action. As regular readers know I am a fan of Armati, but it can look ugly with all of the hit and fatigue markers on the table.

Other rules I saw being used were WRG 5th or 6th edition, "Hail Caesar", "Spear and Shield" or something like that, Piquet and I think "To the Strongest".  I'm probably coming up short on some of the systems in play.

Well, I had my AMW adaptation to be getting on with. My players were Phil from our local group and Simon Wilson who came down from somewhere near Sheffield to play. He took the Indians.

I haven't documented the game turn by turn as I've written up versions of this several times already. Phil went in for a big right hook, lead by Alexander. He took some heavy casualties on his other units, especially from the chariots, but it turned out to be a devastating tactic.

King Porus tried to even up the odds by intervening, but he eventually had to flee to the relative safety of his infantry line. The elephants tried to press on in the centre and inflicted some damage but were unable to make a break through. They also kept dying and the running into each other  when going berserk.

Eventually Phil was able to encircle both ends of the line, and Porus died when the infantry unit  has was with was overwhelmed by Alexander and two units of Companions.  Simon took it very well and claimed to have enjoyed the day. I really should have taped down the edges on the mat to stop it riding up in the centre.

We only got to play the game once due to lack of fresh players. and we probably didn't have quite enough time any way.

It really shows how the hobby has fragmented over the years, and continues to do so. The oldest rules on display were 6th edition which date from 1980. A battle day run in the early 80s would probably have featured lots of games using 6th edition plus possibly Tony Bath and his rules and that would have been that, unless the Halifax team turned up with "Shock of Impact". But 14 sets of rules, - no, not believable.

Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable day out and recommended to anyone who hasn't tried it. Keep your eyes open for next year's event.


  1. Terrific game photos! Such variety of games. With such diversity in tastes, it will be interesting to read recaps on how each game played out.

    Variety and rules' fracturing is not a bad thing unless, of course, you are a tournament player.

    1. If you join the SoA then you'll be able to read the write ups in Slingshot over the next 12 months.

      Lots of rules makes life interesting but it does mean we no longer have a common language to discuss ancient wargaming.

      Oh. I forgot. There was a game of FoG ancients as well.

    2. I am a member of the SoA and I do look forward to the recap!

    3. Good for you! I must go off and write mine.

  2. From the look of the amount of destroyed units around the edge of the table the AMW game must have been intense.

    1. AMW isn't a game for the faint hearted. The body count was high on both sides. Which was sorta right.

  3. Very good day out and the AMW game worked quite well (a bit skewed in Alexander's favour I thought but that might mean 'historical': one is never quite sure how 'close' Alexander's victories were ... ) ...

    I think those old WRG rules were actually 5th edition rather than 6th (so a bit older and certainly back in the days of Shock of Impact, Hellenistic Warfare and Newbury Rules ... ) ...

    All the games looked great - especially if you like elephants ...


    1. I think the game is stacked in Alexander's favour, but then he did win.

      Yes, and I see from elsewhere that the game was 5th edition. What do I know.

  4. Very nice photos. I played on the Lost Battles table, slugging it out as Alexander in the first game and Porus's in the second. I can honestly say that, with Phil Sabin's help, these were two of the most engaging Wargames I have played. A great day!

    1. I think there's a lot of merit in LB and have played it from time to time. I know those on its Yahoo group get very involved in detailed discussions on the internal workings of it all. It's obviously a game for people who like that sort of game!