You likely can’t tell from this blog showing what I have been painting over the last few years, but I used to be an avid player of ancients games. I have tried various rules recently such as Impetus, FoG, DBMM etc. and have found them all fairly lacking really. They all have their good points but fail to give me a fully enjoyable game on a evening. Hail Caesar by Warlord games has stood out as the best of the ‘new rules’ to me but still is not perfect – of course nothing ever is really. So my 15mm ancients painting and gaming has dropped off, as you can tell.
Now, along comes Sword and Spear a game produced by Mark Lewis and his small company which you can get here. The rules have gathered very good reviews on the internet – plus some of the local guys in the group I play with were interested so I decided to have a look myself. I bought the rules and on Wednesday I broke out my Hittites/NKE forces and tried them out.
Overall, I have to say I’m impressed with the rules. They seem to generate a fun gaming evening as there seems to be a lot of tactical choices and decision points in the game. Nick a friend in the club has done two in depth review posts on his thoughts on the game, which you can see here and here so I’m not going to repeat that info. I will add that the rules are written in English and not a bad version of that, and have some interesting tactical aspects which make the game flow very quickly, yet keep both players engaged in the action. No sitting and watching your opponent agonize about his move in these rules. The biggest flaw I see at present is that the army lists, which are very open. It’s great that they are freely available (no extra books for lists) and I like the flexibility in them. So that for sensible players I don’t see an issue. But, as they are defined now I could see them easily being abused by ‘power gamers’. Maybe that’s not that much of an issue if the point system is well balanced but my experience this can be a problem for some. Competition lists could be a thing for the future though and would solve that – and give Mark more products as well.
So below are a few pictures of the test game we had. I did not take many pics but they should give a feel for the game. We used 80mm wide units, so 2 DBx chariots or 4 foot bases. It was a reasonable sized game (350 pts each side) played on a 4 x 4 table – so we had approx 12 units each. I played the Hittites and started by winning the scouting phase and thus had the advantage in deploying troops phase. David deployed his NKE chariots on my left with archers in the center and his melee foot on my right. I countered with my archers against his chariots, the masses of crap Hittite infantry in the center and center. I had a unit of light chariots on each side with the heavy’s chariots against the NKE foot. I have to say the terrain placement, scouting and deployment are much better than say Impetus but not as complex as FOG – so a great compromise to me of effect vs. complexity.In a summary of the game David moved the NKE chariots against my Hittite archers. The archers did not do that well in the combats and David was slowly winning on that side of the table. But the archers with a Hittite chariot to boost them did kill some chariots and the sub-commander on that side of the table! That caused major command issues for David and reduced his attacks speed quite a bit.On the other side, my Hittite heavy chariots moved around the flank of the advancing NKE infantry and made a devastating attack which destroyed a couple of units. As another comment on the rules I have to say I like that skirmishers can evade in these rules, but it’s not a guarantee, unlike many ancient rules. The fact that they can fail to evade is more realistic than the nearly invulnerable skirmishers in many games. Again this makes the medium and heavy troops the kings of the battle which they were. To support this in the center I had advanced some of the Hittite foot and they were in combat as well.But my folly as it turned out was to attack with center against the NKE archers with the bad Hittite foot. The arrow shots hurt, but the hand to hand was worse and that’s what in the end and took my army over the morale test level. Of course some of the damaged unit failed their test and routed giving David the win.So there we are a few thoughts on this rule set and I think you’ll be seeing more reports of this and more ancient figs being painted soon. We played some rules wrong but overall it was a fun game for both David and myself and the game even with us learning the rules took less than 2.5 hours to complete. This set still does not replace DBA as my favorite game for ancients at present but I am impressed so far.