I have been playing a few Art de la Guerre (ADLG) ancient games in the last little while to learn the rules. So, one of the guys suggested that we try the rules set with the 6mm figures I have in the ‘big battle’ multi-player style. We have been playing various different rules sets for the last little while with the same figures. So in this concept we played a 300 point, 4 player game with my models. This was still a learning game for us all, but as with all these games when trying different rules, I thought I would write it up and give my/our thoughts on the game.
So as normal for these styles of game, it was Picts/Scots vs. Romano-British (Arthurian if you want to think of that way). An ADLG unit is either a single base of ‘DBx’ style cavalry/skirmishers but the formed infantry are 2 bases deep. That meant I had to do a little bit of fiddling with the bases in the end to get the right numbers etc. Depths of them were a bit of an issue, but we worked that out in the end and it did not seem to impact the game at all. The forces were not optimized for ‘best performance’ either – they used the figures that I have, but I did get 2 army list legal forces from my figs at the 300 point level (just).
We used the standard table setup and deployment system in the rules which gave a table with a decent amount of terrain, mostly around the edges. The Pict deployment zone had a woods in the center though, and one flank of the Romano-British deployment had a hill, which was close to the center of the table. The Pict’s had a Scot ally command (closest to the camera in the photo below). All their infantry was medium foot- the Picts are spearmen, the Scots swordsmen, and they had 3 chariots and a load of light horse, which were deployed in the space between the marsh/swamp on the left flank (top of the picture) and the woods in the center, which held more Pict spearmen.
The Romano-British deployed with their cavalry in the open ground opposite the Pictish chariots and light horse. They then had 2 blocks of their heavy infantry, deployed 2 units deep , one on the hill and the other in the center between the cavalry and the hill. The Romano-British had standard medium and elite heavy cavalry with just a couple of elements of light horse in support. Their main combat arm though was the heavy spearmen units. Each force had a few skirmish archers units, which were to support their foot units.
The Picts were the attackers and so went first. In ADLG each command (and in this game each army had 4) rolls a dice, adds their commanders ‘skill level’ (a score between 0 and 2) and then divides that by 2 (rounded up). Those pip’s can then be used to move units or groups of units, and/or rally hits off units. Commanders get a ‘free’ pip of their own which can be used on themselves or their group. One of the twists of this system is that an allied commands can be unreliable. This means if you roll a 1 on the first command die roll, they will refuse to do anything till you roll or 6 or the enemy comes close to them. So guess what die was rolled for the Scot’s… Yes a 1 <sigh>
So they would not be doing much for the first part of the game. I also had deployed them back from the furthest point they could have been – which made things harder. So that made for a change of plan for the aggressive Pict’s. Movement is more restricted than in DBA etc, but is not that complex. Units and groups can move forward and if they move at least a base width, they can slide sideways a base width as well. Units can also wheel, turn 90 or 180 etc so that’s pretty easy. They can do second moves if not close to the enemy and even a 3rd move a turn if their commander is with them. Those cost extra command pip’s of course so you can not always do everything that you want with your units.
In our game the first thing is the Skirmishers of both sides advanced and started trading shots. The Romano-British heavy foot advanced towards the Picts. With the their Scot’s allies not wanting to ‘play ball’ this had decided the Pict’s tactics on that side of the table. They let the Romano-British come to them, at least until their allies wanted to get into the game.
On the other flank a large number of the Pict light horse moved to head off the Arthurian cavalry. They only had javelins, so moved up close and then threw them. In the end this was not that successful. They were hoping to break up the Romano-British formation but that did not really happen. Shooting is a single opposed die roll with modifiers in ADLG. Shooting is unlikely to kill main battle units but can disrupt them which is a negative in combat. The Pict light horse were a little limited in movement from the other units and the swamp.
As expected the next turn the Romano-British cavalry charged the Pict Light horse sending them running – well evading. In ADLG if an enemy is within one base length range of the front of a units (in it’s zone of control) then the unit can charge without paying the pip, but this is done unit by unit. We had to check the rules carefully here around evading rules and worked them through them. The ADLG rules are written for tournament play so are quite comprehensive, but are not as free reading as some rules set. We sorted that though and in the end the Romano-British cavalry scattered the Pict light horse. This was especially as the Pict’s decided to evade ‘in columns vs as a unit/group’ – because of the movement of was restricted by the movement of the other Romano-British cavalry. This also mean that 2 of the Pict units ended up not being able to evade and started to fight it out with the Elite heavy cavalry – we all expected that to go just one way… Other Pict light horse ended up scattered – a couple went right through the chariot others ended beside the medium foot.
In the center the Romano-British cavalry and infantry moved up, trying to trap the Pict skirmishers – both the light horse and foot versions. The Pict spearmen line had to move up a little to head that off though. This brought the two lines close together and finally moved the Picts out of the woods, which the Romano-British heavy spearmen would not have liked to fight in.
Unexpectedly, the Pict light horse in combat managed with some good die rolls to stand up to the Elite Romano-British light horse! Combat again is between units and is a single D6 rolled for each unit, with various factors and the abilities of unit types taken into account. Mostly the base combat factors are between 0 and +2 though, with things like side support adding and extra +1. The difference in the rolls provides the number of hits a losing units takes. Elite means it’s harder to roll poor (or mitigates those effects a bit). Things like units having armour and how well a units fights vs certain opponents also factor into things as well. All this shows that the Pict Light Horse was very much against the odds against the elite heavy horse but it was still possible for it to survive for a few turns.
This did though allow time for the Pictish Spearmen to move through the swaps to provide support for them. Side support helps but attacking units flanks while they are frontally engaged tends to mean they start at -1 so that can be very powerful. The Romano-British horse charge had got them fighting the Pict chariots and even some medium spear in the center though. The problem with this aggressive move was that they had moved deep into the Pict side of the table and they needed to win before the Picts could surround and overpower them. The Picts had troops on either side of them and had more units than the Romano-British in this area so it was a bit of a risky move.
In the center the Romano-British foot had moved into combat with the Pict Spearmen. This also (as much by luck than good play), got them close enough to the Scot command to make the Scots come into play/reliable – i.e. able to be commanded. This was good news for the Pict’s as suddenly the Scot’s started moving forward with passion to support the Pict spears now in combat.
The Romano-British heavy vs. Pict medium spearmen did start to make a difference – as they had 4 hits vs the 3 for the Pict’s, but overall the combat was fairly balanced. Both sides started to take hits and units started to dir. Both sides commanders started leading the combats at the front. This effects the combat (giving their unit a plus 1 in the fight) but makes it much harder for those commanders to issue commands to other units in their command. It also risks them dying if they are on the losing end of the fight. That happened to several of the Romano-British commanders – the die rolls were not kind to them.
With the Scots command moving fast towards the Romano-British on the hill, their side of the battle started to move to a full on fight quickly. Suddenly the wave of Scots coming, started to threaten the flanks of the other heavy foot command as well and the Romano-British had to move down from their defensive hill setup. Added to this, we were starting to run out of time in the game, it was getting late. So this was a throw everything in for a last couple of turns time it seemed. Overall the results were mixed – with the Scots giving as good as they got. The extra movement of the medium foot did make a difference but their groups started scatter and not support each other as much as was likely desired.
All across the table combats were being fought – but the cavalry battle was starting to finish up. Although the elite Romano-British heavy cavalry, supported by medium cavalry had taken the fight to the Picts they had not managed to make enough decisive break thought combats. This allowed the Pict light cavalry and medium foot to come in help and turn that battle their way. A few flank attacks had really made the difference as well as some combined javelin throwing by the Picts. So, although very scrappy, with forces on that side depleted by both sides, the Picts finished on top – just. The foot commands were still in a slogging match when we called it though.
Winning (or breaking an army) is based on killing units in the opposing army and adding units with hits on them and other items. Most (nearly all) units count the same for this and so loosing skirmishers is bad and a reason for them to evade etc. Although neither army was at their break point, not only did the Romano-British have more casualties, they also were closer to their break point. The death of several commanders in combat was a big factor in this. Their army had also become much harder to control because of this. So we called it a close by slight victory for the Picts.
So, overall all 4 of the players had fun. We all said we would be interested in playing more games of ADLG. Three of us are regular DBA players and so although we had to unlearn a few things these rules have quite a lot of familiar concepts in the game – but at a larger scale.
The units having hits though and not having the fiddly recoils/stylized rules in DBA etc makes the game in some ways nicer than it. I do like the command and control aspects of this game as well. It still limits you but is not so random of Hail Caesar or something like that. Also, in combat the fact that even though their are factors for different forces they never seem to be at the point where you don’t have a chance of winning. But using D6’s vs. say D10’s in Hannibal mean that the ranges are not that huge. Being able to rally units, but this not being free or a guarantee also is a nice aspect to the rules in my opinion.
That said this game strikes me as ‘more detailed/tactical’ than Hail Caesar or Hannibal. Those games style and rules, to me, are the convention type fast of and loose game. Those are where players just do things and move toys on the table. If you lose then you laugh and move on. ADLG just feels a more a game where you have more choices and more decision points. That means a player has many more specific decisions which impact the game. That makes ADLG a bit more of a thinking game, vs wild moves and dice affecting the game of Hail Caesar. So its a style thing – for example I would not want to run a 6 player ADLG and 4 players seems about the max size for it. So this is not the best multi-player game, but so far for a 1 vs 1 game, ADLG would so far be by far my first choice of the ones we have played in this series of games.