Clash of Spears – game report and review

We have played a couple of games of Clash of Spears recently, so I thought I would do one of my mini-reviews and game play blog posts on this rules set. In summary Clash! is a large skirmish style game. So basically the level of SAGA or Infamy. You typically get 30 to 50 figs (28mm) on a side and play a scenario. So it’s not a large battle but also not really a skirmish game, so a big scuffle or some such… The base game is set in the Rise of Rome/the Punic wars – so the time of the Roman Republic and the fall of the Greek states. They have just released a second book with army lists for the Fall of the Republic and early Roman Empire periods. Work is ongoing for a Japanese version and Dark ages as well I gather from their facebook.

The game is more focused on pick up or balanced tournament style games than say Infamy Infamy which is more story/campaign based. So overall you can say that style it compares very well to SAGA and likely is a rival to that. You can easily make a set of linked games if you like but there are no set rules for that in the base game. It is a game which is typically aimed at 28mm figs as well – all the pictures are of that scale in the rules (and they are pretty rules). Now that’s all fine but I have been using the rules with 15mm’s and it seems to work equally well with those. I use one DBx base for a single 28mm figure. All other rules stay the same. In fact the authors note they think each 28mm fig represents between 2 and 4 real people, so in some ways this may better reflect visually the actual planned scale of the game!

The rules focus on command and fatigue, so do give a bit of a feeling of a Too Fat Lardy game even though it is not. There are also no ‘super powers’ or other weirdness which you get in the SAGA games. Commanders are strong fighters but not supermen either. A commanders main function are to get the normal guys doing what you want vs. being a one man army. All these aspects mean this game has much more of a historical feel than say SAGA, which I like but has much more of mythical fantasy style to it.

The game has setup rules, which work ok although in some ways I would like the option of a bit more terrain on the table. Thats an easy tweak though if desired. Below is the setup we started with in our game where the Gauls were raiding an Iberian tribes area. We played a simple control the area game – you can see the two objective markers below. I was in charge of the Iberian tribes, trying to stop the invading Gauls.

An interesting aspect of these rules is the unit deployment is done in a hidden manner. You have markers for each unit plus some dummies and move those till they get ‘locked’ by being seen by your opponents troops. This is very reminiscent of the chain of command patrol phase in some ways. It allows for some bluffing and tactical moves. For example on this game I knew my Iberians liked the woods and hills and really wanted to do more open order move and shoot type attacks vs.the Gauls who are a little more proficient in close order fighting. So, I tried to get units into the woods on the left and right on the table to spread out the fight. In the end this was helped by the Gauls trying a tactic of massing their troops between the hills. That would give them a very powerful force but concentrated in one area.

In this stage each turn a player can make 2 moves of units markers (each move is 4″) which are not locked. This alternates and in daylight game means the units start roughly 18 to 24 inches between them. However, depending on the armour of a unit the more moved it makes at this stage the more it will start the game fatigued…So there is a cost for moving heavy troops too far, but we have found sometimes that is worth it to get into a good position.

In the end of that phase the counters ended as below, You can see the red Gaul markers all on one side of the board. The dice we used to mark the number of moved they have made.

Once every counter is locked in place they are replaced with the units – alternating between players. The dummies are shown for what they are etc. The unit can be anywhere around the replaced marker. One figure just has to be where the marker locked – and no figure closer to the enemy than that. So below you can see the initial deployment of our forces. As I had hoped the Iberians had caught the Gauls and were in the process of surrounding them. The gaul force was deployed between the 2 hills as they wanted. My forces were split as you can see with some on the left and some on the right of the woods. But each had a commander sort of got what they wanted but I doubt that we would have started like this in a more traditional deployment method. So that was good/different.

Below are the Gauls – you will see these in close up detail in the coming weeks as I have just finished painting these figs and will be showing them soon. The Gauls had 3 commanders (the round bases) vs the Iberians having 2 but theirs were a little more skilled. The red dice show the fatigue (1 to 6) on a unit.

In Clash players alternate in having one commander spends an action point to activate a unit. If that has no fatigue it activates and can do up to 3 actions in a turn. If it has a fatigue then it needs to pass a dice test to see if it will do the command or the unit just decides to ignore the commander and rest a bit (reducing their fatigue by one instead). If a unit will do something, then they can do up to 3 actions in a turn. Some actions generate fatigue (such as fighting) and the more actions a unit does the more fatigue it can generate as well, It sounds complicated but there are a couple of tables for this and it becomes quite easy to understand after a turn or two.

A complexity to this is that after the 1st action of an activated unit, an opposing player can try to interrupt and try to get one of their commanders to order a unit to do a single action. This always requires a test to do. But this allows units to react to others and means a unit can react to others actions after their first action – for example allowing skirmishers to run away or throwing spears at opposing troops who come to close. The other interesting concept is that although a unit can only do 3 actions per turn, it can activate more than once in a turn. So for example a unit may move. Then stop and the opposing player activates a unit. Then the first player may move the unit again (or interrupt the opposing player using it) as long as a unit has actions left. This second (or even third) activation needs another command point and a potential test to do something. So command point management becomes important too. Lastly, if a unit does not use all 3 actions in a turn, then at the end of the turn the unused actions are automatically used to reduce a units fatigue.

This all gives the player an interesting choice dynamic of actions vs. reactions all while managing the command points available and fatigue on units. For example below you can see the end of the first turn of move for the Gauls. Some units moved further and added fatigue, while the back too just failed to take commands and move at all! Maybe the fearsome Iberians in the woods ahead had already started to win the metal battle!

Below you can see the larger picture at the end of the first turn of movement, with the Iberians moving up and spreading out. Close order which helps some troops like the Gauls heavier troops. It is when their bases are all touching and a close unit. Open order is where there is a little space between the bases. Close order troops with the right skills get defense bonuses but they move slower in that formation as well.

Over on the hill the skirmishers on both sides had started exchanging shots in the first turn. One of the things we have found with this set of rules is that although not super deadly, missile fire can and will cause casualties, Shooting at close range, especially with throwing spears can be quite telling though especially on smaller units. The longer range fire is not as deadly but still is not something to ignore. I believe this reflects the smaller scale of the conflicts vs the typical big battle ancient game where missiles are annoying but will cause few casualties.

An example of the of the interaction and activation and faigue happened at the start of the next turn. A warband of Gauls has used a couple of activations for movement in the previous turn and had a single fatigue as you can see below. But at the end of the turn their spare action removed that fatigue meaning they were fresh vs. they could have moved closer but would have started the next turn more fatigued.

The next turn the same Gauls activated first and moved forward towards the Iberian javelin armed skirmishers (the 5 bases of 2 figs per base above). But the Gauls had to do a second action to successfully throw their throwing spears at the javeliners/or charge into combat. The Iberian javelin armed skirmishers successfully interrupted and moved back out of range before that happened.

That gave the warband a choice – stop now or push on with their attack but risk getting isolated. They decided to continue and moved forward and threw their spears at the Iberian javelinmen. This killed a couple of the javelinmen bases. I told you close ranged throwing combat can be quite deadly – with five warband figs/bases using throwing spears killed two of the javelinmen.

They then rearmed their throwing spears as a third action. That left them with 3 actions and 2 fatigue. They could not activate again and I likely would have moved them back vs rearming their spears. Would that be the right decision as it left them with no actions and right in front of my troops…

In the Iberian activation which happened next, the veterans Iberian with a commander attached charged those aggressive Gauls. They were close (so they could throw spears), which meant they were close enough to be charged with a single action. As this was the Iberian units first action the Gauls could not react to this. But they had also made 3 actions so they could not even if they had wanted to. In hand to hand combat as a defender if you have actions you can do things in clash as well. Another decision point for the player in a game. You can either try to just hold and take the attack, actively defend to reduce hits or aggressively fight back at the attackers and try to kill them. To me that’s another nice decision point for players.

This time all the Gauls could just hold as they had no actions left. That did not play out well for them as the Iberians with their commander also in the fight wiped them out to a man. After this the Iberians then retreated back to their starting position. So the Gauls just pushed too far forward (well maybe were tempted forward) and they were destroyed for it.

After that fight the forces on this left side just moved closer with no one moving any units too aggressively that turn. The Gauls after their initial refusal to move were starting to get lined up now though, with their two big hard units in the centre of their line.

Also in the centre of the table I had pushed two Iberian units up and had claimed both objectives. I also had started to use the Iberian troops against the Gauls skirmishes on the hill. They were my focus now to win the game. Could I clear the hill and turn the Gauls flank, My idea was to try to delay and even draw the main Gaul line forward on the left by using throwing spears etc without engaging them in melee. If I could force them to do multiple moves to get to fight then I could hopefully pick them off piecemeal like I did that first unit. You can see the overall table developing below. So far the Iberians were on top of the situation.

The next turn the Iberian warband who had suffered some long range missile casualties charged the slingers who had been targeting them. Unfortunately, for the slingers at the end of the previous turn I had moved them up to within 4” and thrown spears at them. So the slingers could not react to this charge. The slingers had activated first but I had been lucky and avoided casualties when they activated and shot. But they had not done another action – choosing to wait and see what happened. So my spearman – who had not rearmed (the big white token showed they were without their throwing spears) charged in to melee with them.

In this case the slingers fought well and I killed one Iberian while they lost 2 of their own. I had taken their fatigue up to 4 and so likely should have tried that attack again but did not, thinking that caution was best. But 1 more fatigue would have driven the skirmishers from the table as more than twice the number of figures in fatigue on a unit run makes it flee the table.

Instead I held them in place – to act as a target for the archers which of course they were. The Gaul archers made pin cushions on them… Maybe I should have charged the slingers to get them out of the way but I had not and it was too late now, as the Iberians were dead.

That though had sort of played into my plans. I moved my slingers up and with 2 shots they cleared out the archers on the hill. Again close range missile work vs. unarmored troops can be deadly. This left the hill open for my other more melee focused units to start to move up as well. Those Iberian spearmen had died so I had several more numerous and fresh units now able to come in on the flank of the Gauls.

Over on the other flank my javelin men continued to harass the Gauls and they succeeded in tempting another gaul warband a little too forward and I managed to again attack and wipe it out. The javelin unit was down to a single base now but they had done their work well.

The Gauls were still in the fight at the end of that turn and could not fail the force morale check to run away, because of their makeup. However, things did not look good for them. The next turn things continued as they had – going from bad to worse. The Iberians kept up their missile and charge tactics when they could and a 3rd Gaul warband fell the those tactics tricks on the left flank. With some amazing save rolls from me I still had not lost a figure from the unit that had fought 3 opponents either. On the other flank a unit finally took out the last of the Gaul’s slingers. The Gauls were running out of troops. My commander was moving up the Iberian reverses.

In the end though it did not matter as with just the 2 solid and most powerful Gaul units the Gauls decided withdrew at the end of that turn. So overall the spearing throw and mobility of the Iberians plus moving around the flank had turned the game decisively in their favor. The Iberians had focused on the weaker Gaul units on the flanks and avoided the tougher ones.

As for the opinion of the game, I like it. So far the rules feels quite like a lardy game as I mentioned but it is more focused on a pick up and fight type style encounter which is common in ancient gaming. For me the interesting mechanic is the mixture of actions and fatigue that is the core item in the game. That trade off makes for lots of tactical choices and decision points. The command points and rolls for activation which are also part of that is another aspect. This ensures that even the best laid plans or ideas sometimes fail. All this makes for a fairly simple execution of a complex area in the game rules. It’s not simplistic but has a lot of decision points and player control without being total control which is what I like in games. This does take some getting used to though and so there really are tactics in the game which I think players have to learn.

Added to that, the commanders do have some punch as fighters so are better than the usual commander but are not supermen as seen in say SAGA. To that point all the abilities of troops are historical and not super powers like in SAGA. So the whole feel of the game is historical vs. mythical in feel. I have not tried too many different troop types but overall the army lists seem flexible and the on line tool for building forces (created by a fan) is also very good.

I have to add that the deployment ‘pre-game’ is interesting and really does make for a slightly different setup than in typical games. I also like that the rules really worked with 15mm DBx basing without issue. As you see in the pictures I hope this felt much more like a small battle than a scuffle of a few figs by using these. I really like how it looks for that. Sort of between a big game and real skirmish stuff with 15mm figs.

The only two negatives I have so far are first that with tracking the command points, fatigue and action for each unit the table does get a few tokens/markers on it. The throwing spears needing rearming is another token we used. So this can get a little messy etc. The second is that at times the book is laid out in a way which caused me to do a lot of flicking around – until I got the rules right in my head. A few things are in odd places for my mind and took some digging. It’s not DBA or anything crazy and maybe it’s the way my mind works for some things. Note, the book reads really well and is clear just the ordering of chapters etc made me jump around a bit, The reference sheet is ok but a more comprehensive one would help/reduce that – but the risk with that of course is that they can get too big and unusable. Both those are minor points really and will not stop me playing the game again.

As a last point there are a limited set of scenarios. There are 5 or so in the book but having more of those is always good – especially in smaller scale games like this. Maybe having some more raiding style and/or with more terrain or doing things like raiding locations would be good. There is one cattle raid game but more of that type of thing would have been nice. Now I know trying to make balanced generic scenarios is very hard so this is understandable. It is also fairly easy to create scenario’s oneself when you get to know a system but that thought came to my mind when reading the rules.

Overall though I have been impressed with these rules and will want to play them again – with the different periods they cover as well. So if you like the SAGA scale games but want a more historical feel game then Clash of Spears is worth a look.

About mellis1644

A painter and gamer who has no illusions about being the best painter but likes to play with decently painted toys and have fun gaming
This entry was posted in 15mm, After Action Report, Ancients, Review and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Clash of Spears – game report and review

  1. That sounds like a good set of rules and it did look like it had the feel of a small battle! 🙂 Enjoyed the review, Mark, so thanks for sharing. I’m pleased you felt as though using your 15mm figures seemed about right (and you got to use your new hills as well).

  2. Markus Sharaput says:

    I picked these up on release, but haven’t had the chance to try them – my sense is they’re best suited to a game vs an opponent, given all the decision points and reaction mechanics. Nice to see a game broken down, thanks!

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