Friday, 13 March 2015

Song of Spear and Shield beta rules - chariots

Careering 'n crashing cabbage crates, by Cronos!”

We are honoured to be part of the play testing of Song of Spear and Shield. This set of rules is aimed at answering the “what ifs” Either historically possible clashes between diverse elements or the less probable encounters.

Oh astute reader, you may have noticed my interest in the Trojan war? The really discriminating will have noticed the absence of the chariot. Now we are going to change that by putting different historical Achaean chariot and infantry combinations through their paces. We sort of disagree on the rules methodology of handling chariots. Tony hates it, I think it's workable. Let's see what we can do.

A quick note on my chariot basing. Rather than have mounted & unmounted versions, my bases will take a 2p based hero. If on the base, he's in the chariot. Off the chariot base, he's on foot. For the first game I added a “shrubbery” base as we were using single occupancy. You may notice that I only have 3 chariots so I had to make a replacement with a card base.

The rules. We are using a beta version, so may not be the same when published. Combat is still 1 on 1, but you only have to beat the armour to wound and remove. There is no group activations as most are in units with a maximum number of no more than 1/3 of the force. We didn't use all the rules (i.e. one-off group moves such as reform) as we are after a lot of simple fast games.

Javelins. A full forward move gives a free shot. If the target is missile armed a Q check will allow return shooting or a +1 if fail as “caught on the hop”. Hitting a target from rear or shieldless is +1.

This means that any action will require single activation phases that might be cumbersome in larger units, but does give an interesting stop-motion movie, particularly when a fast moving javelin armed chariot tries a run.

Suggestion. Restrict infantry to 1 activation (until something happens) as I should have done in the Herakles game. Trying to herd cats as opposed to staying in line. This will give more than the advantage to any unit above Q4, but at least you can hope to meet them in a solid bunch rather than being taken apart in detail. There are national and regroup add-on-one-off rules that can be used to give flavour to a full rules game.

When did the “better troops to the right” convention begin? The order you activate units can be crucial. We tried the unreliable and wavering traits, the first created a unit of super-skirmishers who rolled up my flank. I suggest a slightly different track that creates the result that they go forward, shoot, then withdraw, or just keep edging forward or back*.

Notes on chariots. Movement, once started is “free”, the first activation gives you the full move plus any free hacks or throws. If you fail to activate your chariot, it will go forward – at the end of the turn is logical, but sometimes it makes sense to move in response to enemy skirmishers who may choose an intercept vector. Most of the loss of control results require a forward movement which often triggers a fresh round of reaction attacks or shooting. Taking the lead from vehicles in FL, a medium move. Markers to remind you of movement and activation are a good idea. As most chariot combat is a free hack, any actual activation can be used for extra strikes or throws. You need a lot of room, chariots have a turning circle similar to the Enterprise. I deliberately avoided terrain for simplicity – I'm going to need some plastics to make ruined chariot markers, as these could prove lethal.

Rather than crunch a whole unit, the chariot should go forward or slight turn attacking any figure it comes in contact with. For instance, a skirmishing unit would suffer 1-3 casualties rather than all being ground down.

Movement is good, but we'd suggest that a turn or combat drops move to next level down. Loss of horse reduces top speed to 2 and turn/combat a further reduction. Or in other words you suffer either/or if you do something other than go forward. Extra activations can be used to revive speed.

We gave chariots free interpenetration of friendly skirmishers (excuse me, coming through!) which gives the chariot both safe haven and cover. We decided early on that a chariot can start behind any such group, which represents rapid movement behind the line.

Chariot runners need to stay as close in as possible. Use to spook or pin skirmishers before hitting with the chariot. It is tempting to use them as shields, to protect the chariot from shooting. Don't, they will just die.

Wonderful thing hindsight. I hope you find this both useful and challenging. These rules are perfect for those plastic airfix type soldiers and address the “what if's” and smaller encounters that never got in the history books. The larger games below might have been between small cities or just raiding. Don't dismiss smaller scales. You can use 10mm either singly or multi-based, 6mm or 3mm in blocks in replacement for single figures.

Conclusion.  These rules work (with a wee tweak) for chariots.  Yes they tend to plow through lesser infantry, but even skirmishing javelins can bring them down.

Play games of 2-3 chariots per side, if you don't have the figures make some up like I did - if you want a WW1 aircraft game, these rules are a good place to start!

The rules do Homeric warfare better than any tailored rules I have tried.

We had some real meat-grinder games but we never had a poor or boring game.  if we had used the morale-break rules, fleeing infantry are fair slaughter to chariots.  Watch this space once we've "cleansed our pallets" we will return, probably after I've bought more chariots and unarmoured javelin.

I also relearned the lessons from way back when I ran demo and participation games at local shows.  The last games saw an effort to identify sides, etc.  sabot bases and dead markers were painted, as were the odd number of troops, although I still have to put the final push into doing the chariots.  Games will be clearer from now on.

The scenarios

You're on your own”. The infantry stand back and let the chariots get on with it. Skirmishers stay out of the way.

We're right behind you”. Each hero has the support of a band, who will come to his aid or exploit any advantage. If javelin armed or have supporting archers these will target enemy heroes or leaders.

Flank attack”. Classic Hittite tactic that may have been used by chariot squadrons of the city states. A mass of formed infantry unsupported by friendly chariots is attacked from the diagonal. Two versions of this, formed order infantry and a mass of skirmishers.

Egg armed with a sledgehammer. A loan chariot with or without chariot runners, hunts or is hunted by skirmishers.

The types. Although I'm using Achaeans, you could substitute various ancient examples.

Early box chariot with a single occupant. It's hard to see how you could be aggressive. One hand trying to control two stallions and the other waggling a spear, javelin or sword trying to protect them. Some are depicted with 2 crew, this shades them into the next category-. I think this type was used in the type of warfare Homer ascribed to Nestor, close ranked tower shielded spear and wheeling squadrons of chariots..

Dendle or other armoured hero with a spear. This is when the “battle taxi” concept comes in. Or did they joust? Rather than a medieval night with couched lance, did they use a technique like a later Samurai with a Yari? One of the pursuit scenes in Hidden Fortress comes to mind as a way of keeping anyone off the vehicle while attempting to slash or knock down the opponent. Our medieval re-enactment experience tells us that heavily armed infantry needs the back up of lighter armed or you get taken to pieces in detail. Our gaming reinforces this, see below. Good armour just lets you survive in the chariot or front line a bit longer. Wandering around and you're just the biggest shiny target.

Homeric later hero with javelins. Later chariots were a stripped down shell, so you'd guess speed, ease of manhandling (like the Egyptian and British, these could be backpacked) and repair over survivability. As described, a nasty close in bar fight with javelins coming at you from every angle. Duels are common.

The games. These are what we call “end games”, a bit like a chess problem. The action has already started, we take it up at a critical point.

Box Chariot.
Note emergency anti-stress Jaffa cakes on standby
You're on your own”. Note. We had medium movement, not long, and single occupant, so any shooting result (which is random location) on the driver or passenger hits the hero. No attempt to point out the crowd, and they served as window dressing 2 long apart. This played out like WW1 fighters,(one only got one activation and had to jink away rather than press an attack) the one to get the position and the hit took out its opponent. Very enjoyable, though. All ours were equal but you could come up with some interesting variations including some with javelin. I'm of the opinion that they carried a mix of throwing and thrusting weapons throughout the chariots use.

We're right behind you”. Each side has 1 chariot, 6 spear, 2 archers and 6 javelin skirmishers.

Again we started at 2 long separation. This was a meat grinder. Chariots ploughed through spearmen and skirmishers (who could never dodge).

*We tried a few innovations here. For wavering skirmishers each failed reaction resulted in a short withdraw(medium forward, short back). This had the effect of some moving up, shooting then retiring – exactly what you'd expect them to do. In chariot on chariot combat the faster one got the plus for the speed difference, rather than all the speed. The chariots were lucky to survive hails of javelins and a flank attack by spearmen with the loss of a horse but no ill effects. At the end, having run through Tony's skirmishers from behind, my 2 chariots went after one of his that was threatening mine, making a pass one each side. The first pass was a draw, but I came off worse the second time. I got a “stop” result on my shattered chariot, if it had gone right it would have ploughed into the rear of my javelins. Left the rear of my first chariot.

Flank attack”. For this scenario the infantry are drawn up from the middle of the table with the chariots attacking along the diagonal from 2 long. 3 chariots (252) vs

Formed order infantry 6 spearmen, 2 archers, 4 javelin (250) Tony did a nice set of manoeuvres, by the end we'd both done an 180 turn. I managed to get my javelin in close, but it didn't save them. Likewise my archers, who died (as usual) without making a shot. One chariot hit my spearmens flank, thanks to having double rank it lost a horse, and the result led to it skimming the front of the unit. Without support, they were doomed. I kept my activations low to try and use each unit. Quality will out, chariots just keep going!

Skirmishers. 8 archers 2 units of 4), 18 javelin (3 of 6) (250), We skipped this one, the skirmishers didn't stand much of a chance.

Eggshell”. A lone chariot (86) plus 2 chariot runners (70, = 156) hunts or is hunted by a bunch of skirmishers, 2 archers, 15 javelin (3 of 5) (157). Proper use of the runners is the key to this one. Tony put one in front, who lost a duel against skirmishers. Aggressive behaviour against skirmishers works.

D” chariot.

You're on your own”. This time it's the surmised jousting with long spears from the chariot. We are using our innovations which seem to work. Still a very WW1 feel. If you have X activations it costs 1 to move your speed. If you go into combat that is a “mutual free hack” but you lose a speed, so you may use an extra activation to regain your speed (watch jousting). When I got an early 1 activation I had to do an “Inneman turn” to present the hero to Tony's attack. I lost, my hero dead and chariot stalled. Tony stopped, recovered the armour, then dashed off. We each targeted horses when convenient, at least forcing the opponent to slow. I killed a horse and the charioteer causing another stall, leaving the hero to drive back at medium speed. 

We're right behind you”. Each side has 1 chariot, 4 spear & 2 javelin with tower shields, 2 archers and 6 javelin skirmishers. Taking my own advice I did single or no activations, still herding cats! My right hand skirmishers decided to go backwards giving me a very messy line. My chariots rumbled forward, hoping to engage their equals. Each crashed into the javelin skirmishers. My left hand chariot killed 2 before crashing into the stationary chariot. Tony's spear turned and raked my stationary chariot, killing the charioteer. The result was 1 ahead, so the hero must have grabbed the reigns and made his escape. On the other flank Tony's dashed forward giving me a glancing blow, killing a horse before I ploughed into and through his javelin. Although my damaged chariots were now behind him, Tony's had free reign to hit my light troops. My right hand javelin did redeem themselves getting 3 activations (I had nothing to lose) and were able to “bundle” Tony's left chariot in a storm of missiles that killed the charioteer and 2 horses, leaving his hero stranded.

Flank attack”. 3 chariots vs (330)

Formed order infantry 4 spearmen, 4 javelin, 8 skirmishing javelin ' (332) For once my javelins did things right. They managed to kill of both horses of Tony's right hand chariot, which shuddered to a halt allowing the hero to step down gracefully, only to be cut down by a 6:1 javelin. So much for independent action. I tried hard to get my centre skirmishers out of the way, which presented the perfect target. It ploughed into my shielded javelin to be brought to a halt. I managed to get my spear on its flank, but I lost 2 spear and 1 javelin for 1 horse. Then it did a nifty 3 activation turn before heading home. The remaining chariot polished off my javelin skirmishers, archers and spear.

Skirmishers. 8 archers, 18 javelin (330) Again, we abandoned this one as potentially unwinable and boring.

Eggshell”. A loan chariot (110) plus 2 chariot runners (70, = 180) hunts or is hunted by a bunch of skirmishers, 4 archers, 4 shielded javelin, 5 skirmishing javelin (185). The shielded javelin made a difference, advancing to kill a horse then retire. Didn't stop them being crushed though. The archers were hit by a runner, who killed one with a javelin. They managed to avoid everyone, we left them stalked. That left one unit of javelin and one damaged chariot.

Frame chariot

You're on your own”. Classic Homer, the heroes drive forward in front of the masses, dismount and fight or take pot shots at each other. This is the one that fitted the rules. A javelin is launched as a free action per move, so lining up and going for it is important. The target (if missile armed) has the chance to return, but if fails you get +1. As targets are shielded, hitting them on the rear is an extra +1. Once again the feel was very WW1.

We're right behind you”. Each side has 1 chariot, 8 armoured javelin and 6 javelin skirmishers.

The rules as outlined above had a remarkable effect on this game. Tony's right javelin came bounding forward to take mine on while his right chariot did a run in front of his troops. I learnt a painful lesson when my chariot moved up under a screen of javelins. Tony's infantry advanced and took it on, effectively killing each element in turn, causing me to career through his line ending up in a mangled pile ready for looting. Then the infantry turned on mine.

 Now we stopped a short apart and lobbed pointy sticks at each other. The advantage of this is that you can withdrawl out of range without a free hack on disengagement. Tony got a chariot in the right place and plowed through my infantry but I got my own back. Coming from behind, my remaining hit his skirmishers, one killed, his next chariot, killing the charioteer, crashing the chariot and crushing the hero before taking out the remaining chariots hero. That one got me the game. This was so Homer!


Flank attack”. 3 chariots vs (318)

Formed order infantry 6 armoured javelin, 8 (2x4) skirmishing javelin ' (318). My left hand javelin took on Tony's lead chariot, managing to take out a horse for loss of one. His charioteer held on, leaping ahead with my javelin in hot pursuit. He managed to take out a shielded before my skirmisher killed the hero. One down. Tony's outflanking chariot did the usual high speed run, taking out another shielded before crashing into the other skirmish unit. And prepared to come round for the next pass. This ended the game as I was below 50%. Ouch.

Skirmishers. 4 archers, 4 shielded javelin, 4 skirmishing javelin (320). it looks a lot, 12 vs 3, but quality will out. I managed to get my skirmishers to go forward without effect. I tried the bunch shooting rules, 3 figures shooting as one is +2, I even managed to get both units of archers to do an aimed shot for another +1 (I've a feeling your not supposed to do both) but to no avail. The one surprise was when one chariot ploughed through the javelins (killing 2, then javelining an archer) to be stopped in combat by an archer. This was the ideal opportunity for my undamaged left javelins to come in and attack. Again I tried the bunch shot, but they all bounced off the hero. That cost me the game.

Eggshell”. A lone chariot (106) hunts or is hunted by a bunch of skirmishers, 1 archers, 2 shielded javelin, (106). You aren't allowed to mix troop types or I'd have one shielded javelin supporting an archer. So I'm going to try single figures. Don't tell Andrea! My troops failed every activation and reaction, taken apart. If I'd have used my wavering rules, at least they would have gone backwards. I got my coat.



A quick bibliography.

In search of the Trojan War. Michael Wood was 30 years ahead of the pack in believing the war actually happened at some time. Available in book form and the must-see BBC series.


Ancient Armies of the Middle East (Greece, middle east?) This is an oldie and a goody, a good enough “dip yer wick”

Jason and the Argonauts is a real jewel. All the crew are listed in enough detail for you to game some of these battles with these rules. Not got the right figures? Do them as a Roman or medieval pageant. Then there's OGAM, SOBH, maybe more. I'd like more illustrations, but what there is, better than average. The Bebrycian royal guard on p.26 is perfect. I can see him stepping down from his chariot and getting the weight of his dendle armour off his back. I'm sure those young emo girls have been in our shop-.

Early Aegean warriors.5000-1450. Excellent offering, sets the tone for the heroic age.

The Myceneans 1650-1100. Some decent illustrations but fails to make some obvious conclusions. Shows light infantry in standard kit but rehashes that the infantry fought in tight shield blocks when they are always shown in more open order and every other shield wall nation had a standard pattern of shield. Yet the city states issued the weapons yet failed to standardise?

*Bronze Age Greek Warrior 1600-1100. Excellent work, stands out from the crowd, buy this.

Bronze Age war chariots. Not the best, but a reasonable start – everything is covered in better detail elsewhere.

Hittite Warrior. Not the best, supposed to be someone's thesis, but if so someone didn't bother about the glaring errors such as “the Hittites didn't use archers”. Based on a TV documentary (!), details such as one unit comprised of left handed troops is offered without comment. Gives the impression that the Hittites were a con job. Take a city, march the inhabitants to the capital then settle them in another city, recruit into the army. If no expansion (or rebellion) the system would collapse. Interesting difference in slave-taking. Hittites take everyone then separate the wheat from the chaff via a long walk. The Achaeans killed the males and took females for industrial work.

Mycenaean Citadels. The difference, and similarities, between them and Troy is fascinating.

Troy 1700-1250. Excellent work that brings the city to life, but leaves questions unanswered.

*Troy Last war of the heroic age. If you cannot be bothered to read (or listen to) Homer, this is a superb summary. I like the way he describes the different phases of the war. This book is having a major effect on what you see here.

Novels. There's a lot written around the war, but they usually have some glaring errors or just don't ring true.

Vengence of Orion. Ben Bova. Uses the war as a backdrop, but bits ring true, particularly the young heroes turning up then getting cheesed first time out. Our first game had a very WW1 feel about it that brought this novel to mind and top of the reread pile.

The dancer from Atlantis. Poul Anderson. The first I bought, still the best. Good look at Bronze Age politics that makes “Game of Thrones” look like a kids tea party for particularly nice children.

* These two are my suggested “must haves”. Nine Ospreys here. It's a toss up if I've spent more on figures or reference works?!

Troops used all generated by online builder

Points 84 Quality 3+ Combat 2
Special Rules Armor 2, Chariot: Light, Expert Charioteer, Spear, Sword
Box chariot single occupant with spear

Points 110 Quality 3+ Combat 2
Special Rules Armor 3, Chariot: Light, Expert Charioteer, Long Move, Spear, Sword

Dendle armoured hero with spear


Points 106Quality 3+Combat 2
Special RulesArmor 2, Chariot: Light, Expert Charioteer, Javelin, Long Move, Sword

Frame chariot, javelin armed hero

Points 32 Quality 4+ Combat 2
Special Rules Pavise, Spear, Sword

      Early spearman with tower shield

Points 33 Quality 4+ Combat 2
Special Rules Javelin, Pavise, Sword

Javelin with tower shield

Points 41 Quality 4+ Combat 2
Special Rules Armor 2, Javelin, Shield, Sword

later javelin/spearman

Points 35 Quality 4+ Combat 2
Special Rules Javelin, Shield, Sword

      unarmoured close order javelin

Points 24 Quality 4+ Combat 2
Special Rules Javelin, Shield: Small

better skirmisher

Points 9 Quality 4+ Combat 1
Special Rules Javelin, Wavering

javelin skirmisher as used above

Points 11 Quality 4+ Combat 1
Special Rules Bow: Short, Wavering

archer skirmisher as used above

Points 23 Quality 4+ Combat 2
Special Rules Bow: Short

archer skirmisher as used in last 2 games

Points 35 Quality 4+ Combat 2
Special Rules Bow: Composite, Good Shot

better archer

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