Thursday, 22 December 2016

Army lists and stuff like that

I have an odd relationship with Army Lists. When I was a young rebel back in the 70s & 80s I wouldn't have any truck with them. Wargamers should do their own research, I thought, and be able to justify their armies, rather than just get it all ready done for them off the shelf. Wargamers who didn't properly understand their armies were like Scrabble players who know what words get high scores but have no idea what they mean.

Of course I wasn't playing in tournaments and even back then I was mostly writing my own rules and was already in the position of painting both sides of a conflict. I was intrigued by the idea of randomly generating historical armies (you can see some of the ideas I worked on with Pete Berry in "Forlorn Hope") but generally I didn't get it.

As time has gone on I've mellowed I suppose. In any event as research has improved army lists have become less contentious and have become an accepted part of the rules. I really got that message when I first started with Armati as the rules really don't work without the army lists. You might say the same for DBA as well.

One of the things that really wound me up in the early days was that the lists, even when well researched, lost the specific in the search for the general. At one point I knew as much about Henry VIII's armies as anyone. Like, seriously, I did know everything. In detail. I had, - still have - Henry VIII armies from the 1513 Flodden Field/Battle of the Spurs period.

When I first came to Northampton I went to a local club and put on a few games. One chap, who was a die hard ancient wargamer, badgered me into giving him a game with my Henry VIII army using Sixth Edition as "they're nearly in period". He had Teutonic Knights, I think. He loaned me the army lists (plus, I think, I had access to the George Gush Renaissance lists too). Try as I might I couldn't pick an army from them. It was impossible to pick a Flodden Field or Battle of the Spurs army, and my figures only let me field these. So I had to tell my potential opponent that I'd field an army but it wasn't list compliant and told him what it would be. He said that was okay. When we turned up for the game he informed me that he hadn't used the lists either as I hadn't, and had hand picked a killer army to take mine apart. Which he duly did.

Now I don't really blame him for that. The lists at the time said something like "these aren't compulsory but if your opponent doesn't use them, then you don't have to either and you can use your flaming pigs etc, etc..". What annoyed me was that although the lists had all the troop types you might expect in not unreasonable quantities they did not allow you to pick the only historically provable armies from the time.

Of course what I realise now is that this was never the purpose. The lists were to allow the user to create armies that had a chance on the table top without having to resort to complete fantasy. Occasional fantasy, perhaps, but not total. You only have to look at articles in Slingshot about new army types. The list always has enough of the necessary troop types to make it viable, and troops where we have names but no descriptions are perfect to be allocated the light infantry role or whatever that is otherwise missing.

Call me a cynic if you want, it's just the way it looks to me.

So what has prompted this piece of introspection? Well I was putting together a pre-Christmas game for Friday afternoon and I had the same old problems. I'm doing Coutras 1587, Henri de Navarre & the Huguenots first field victory in the interminable French Wars of Religion. This is the battle where Henri first forms up his cavalry in dense blocks and punches a hole through the Catholic Gendarmes en haye. And where he uses groups of enfants perdues in between his units of horse.

I'm going to be using the Renaissance rules in the original Armati, so the first port of call was the army lists to see if they would do. Honestly they are as bad as could be, adopting a one-size-fits-all for the entire period of nearly 40 years for the Huguenots. That means they perform the stunning trick of not being suitable for either the early or the late period. Plus no skirmishing arquebusiers, a noted Huguenot tactic. The Catholic list is a bit better, but not much. It's a shame we never got to re-do these when Armati II was issued. The promised standalone Renaissance set is still awaited.

So into the bin with them. Along with the army ratings too. I hope my opponent likes what I've done instead. In any event we'll get to push around a lot of big shiny figures.


  1. "At one point I knew as much about Henry VIII's armies as anyone. Like, seriously, I did know everything." If you were an American I would think you were poking fun at our next POTUS. Maybe you are?

    Back on topic, I view Army Lists as a guide only. Better to field historical match-ups and know your history than rely on an almost always too generic list.

    1. No, I was not commenting on on old Trumpy. And I did know everything on the army that was known at the time.

      I agree with you on the lists and I pretty much always play historical opponents. I just don't understand how some of them get written. I mean, surely, after you've written a list don't you go back and see if it actually works with the historical prototype to see if you've got it right?

    2. Testing list changes certainly seems an appropriate and necessary next step. I guess not all rules' authors have software engineering backgrounds.

    3. Well, some of the rules I'm talking about pre-date how computing as we understand it. With some sets now there's just too many lists expected to enable the writer to back test everything.

      I actually worked on the army lists for Armati II. They were thrashed out across a very lively discussion group, but even then errors stayed in as some people had different views on the evidence. Also there was a reluctance to change lists too much as people had already bought armies and many felt it wasn't fair to force them to buy more figures. Hence we often ended up with two lists for the same army.

  2. Great post. The same applies to pretty much all periods, often either the troop types or the rules prevent you operating the troops as they were used historically. For example, Japanese armies in the Sengoku period (call it 15th - 17th century) often used elaborate formations to counter the enemy formation - but virtually impossible to replicate on the tabletop and in any rules I've seen either..

    1. There are inevitably compromises in any set of rules that cover multiple campaigns or wars. Going back to Armati it has/d specific rules for things like English longbows or Roman legionaries. It struck me that those rules were there because the writers knew most about those periods. Other armies that deserve specific rules get overlooked.

      One of the strengths of the army lists in AMW is that each army, pretty much, gets specific rules for its tactics or troop types. Okay, so some of them have clearly never been properly playtested, but it's a start.

  3. I've always liked lists because they give me a guide to troop classifications. Its when they place restrictions on basic troop types that they trip up. Hail Caesar's lists tend to give you free reign apart from the specialty or Guard types which I appreciate.

    1. I agree that they perform an essential part in explaining how the rules author thinks that troop types are represented by the rules set. They're a good starting point, and they are a help when buying and sorting figures out.