My friend, Graham, who I’ve known and gamed against for over 50 years, and currently lives in Brussels, visited for the weekend. He is an excellent wargamer (i.e. mainly wins) and frequently plays competitively. He used to play ancients (DBM, then FoG) but has dropped the period and now plays predominately WW2 FoW. I therefore decided to show him the ‘Sword and Spear’ rules (S&S) to maybe rekindle his interest and get his 15mm armies out of their boxes. Unfortunately I forgot to use my camera, so there are no photos with this post.
Our first game involved Medieval Hungarian (me) versus Ottoman Turk (Graham). My first mistake was not to allocate enough dice to scouting, so ended up deploying first. The terrain was fairly open, but there was a big forest on Graham’s side of the table opposite my left flank, which I thought would restrict both his deployment and movement of cavalry on this flank. I therefore made my right flank strong (most of my knights), with only a couple of mounted units covering my left flank. Graham promptly deployed heavily against my weak left flank, accepting the forest impediment! Could my outnumbered left flank cavalry hold long enough to allow my right flank troops to move across the army front and intervene? My left-hand cavalry did OK but were eventually overwhelmed, and the Turk cavalry went on to pick off various Hungarian foot and threaten my camp. My potentially decisive right-hand knights did move across but were hindered by being ‘undrilled’ and slow (heavily armoured). Just as they began to close with the Turks, I was reminded by another trait Graham often employs i.e. he will avoid any clash where he has a disadvantage. Rather than face my knights, his heavy cavalry simply retired and surrendered ground, leaving me punching air, desperately trying to pin down his illusive cavalry, and pointlessly moving around the back of the forest. The final result was a decisive win for Graham and the Turks!
Next we had a game using my Greek hoplites for the Peloponnese War, with Graham taking the Athenian/Thessalian army versus my Spartan Alliance force. Terrain placement went well for me until Graham fortuitously placed a marsh in right front of my nicely placed gentle hill on which I planned to centre my army. In this game I was determined not to be outscouted and devoted a lot of dice to ensure this (and still only just beat Graham by one point!). Luckily in the first turns I threw good dice and was able to move my hoplite line forward quickly. I was concerned that my lack of cavalry compared to Graham’s Thessalians would result in me defending threatened flanks against envelopment, but the rapid movement of my hoplites largely removed this option. The clash of the hoplite lines was fairly balanced; my superior Spartans fighting against Athenian hoplites defending another gentle hill. For many rule systems a clash of hoplites can be a very boring situation with little thought as the conflict unfolds, but the dice allocation mechanism of S&S forces players to constantly think, assess the situation and carefully consider where to place available dice. The game remained close and Graham eventually broke the Spartan army, but I was within 2 points (i.e. a single unit of the Athenians, even Psiloi) of victory. We immediately ended the game at this point (lunch was ready) but with hindsight we should have concluded the turn because there was a chance that the end of turn army morale test could have resulted in the loss of one more unit from the Athenians, therefore converting the marginal win in to a draw.
I think Graham enjoyed both the games and the S&S rules. He thought the S&S rules worked well and cleanly, giving a fast, clear result and forcing the player to constantly think about actions/reactions. He did find the mechanism rather abstract i.e. is the game simply a dice allocation game rather than a tactical military simulation? I can see his point, but would counter that this happens with most rule sets (e.g. DBM PIP allocation), and the ‘cheesy’ moves that seem to happen using FoG that are far from ‘historical’. I hope that the two games we played may inspire Graham to buy a copy of the rules and get his 15mm armies on the table again, at least for ‘friendly’ games.
The next day we played a couple of SAGA games. In the first game Graham’s Anglo-Danish force rapidly beat my Vikings. I learnt not to allow your Warlord to become isolated, because he will quickly become dead meat! For the next game I changed my army to Normans. I intended to shoot Graham’s forces, but he quickly scuttled out of line of sight. He then skilfully used his dice to take out my crossbows and damage my peasants. My knights, lead by my warlord, charged a unit of hirdmen, which Graham bolstered with his warlord. The result was the death of both warlords and a drawn game.Again, this was Graham’s first use of SAGA, but equally I’ve only played one or two games over two years ago, so we were both inexperienced! The games were fast and furious, and we both felt the skill revolved around usage of the special abilities of armies. I think game play would improve with more experience and improved familiarity with the force being used. I therefore resolve to get in more opposed games using SAGA. I don’t think SAGA would work solo because you need the uncertainty provided by an opponent when allocating dice.