25 Jul 2015

L'Art de la Guerre - 5 games, and some serious thoughts about the UK Ancients scene

Back in June I took part in the 2nd L'Art de la Guerre "proper" competition at the BHGS Challenge in Oxford, using a Feudal German army in a Feudal themed period event. I've ended up writing in this preamble something of an essay on ADLG and the UK competition scene, but the reports are still here if you want to skip it !

The German army was pretty simple, reducing my opportunities to mess things up by trying to execute any sort of over complicated plan, and the end result was fairly successful as well - as you can see in these 5 match reports, complete with rules hints and the usual captions and expert analysis from Hannibal.

The Essay starts here... 

This was my first serious session of ADLG, battle-testing the rules in a proper competition setting and I'm delighted to report that - probably unsurprisingly given their long pedigree in France - they emerged pretty much fully unscathed, with the QR sheet barely needed by the end of the weekend.

The other good news was that by the middle of the event I was starting to "play the game" (and enjoy it) rather than "playing the rules" - a quick leaning curve towards enjoying shoving ancients figures around once again.

The reason is probably because at the end of the day ADLG is mechanically extremely similar to DBx games, with pip dice and opposed combat rolls as the core mechanics, and so those familiar tactical problems about finding you have an over complex plan and too few pips to execute it, or that you have suffered a 6-1 combat result that has knocked a hole in you line and you need to shore it up quickly (or that the opposite has happened, and you need to work out how to exploit it!).

With the low base combat factors in ADLG it did initially feel that the role (or roll) of the dice was playing a bigger part in the outcome of the game that I was used to, but a bit of number crunching to reality-check this, and more importantly getting comfortable enough with the rules and mechanics so that I could start to concentrate on the proper tactical decisions and doing things to try and beat my opponent in the actual games rather than being 100% focused on the rules themselves was a hurdle that once I had crossed it, I was totally comfortable with. Playing at 300 points also helped a lot too as a couple of poorly timed 1-6 results make much less of a dent in a 34 unit army than a 22 unit one!

Ultimately ADLG is a well put together fun game, which has the huge advantages of being also fully battle-tested, competition-ready ruleset that is now being extremely widely played in France, Spain, and the US, making the possibility of proper international competitions once again something which I can look forward to attending.

It's also still a "new" set in the UK, so everyone playing is still on the bottom of the same learning curve and can test out new armies and tactics to try and find ways to use those long-ignored figures and units (looks longingly at large Avar army that got painted just as I lost the will to live with FoGAM..), and it also has a viable "short-form" game at 200 points as well as the FoGAM/DBx equivalent "long form" game at 300, so ADLG all in all should really be bang on trend for what people seem to be looking for in a game today.

Will it end up being so - I hope so, but that still needs some more takeup. My experience of the the UK Ancients scene has been to be part of it at an incredibly fortunate, or even spoilt maybe, period of time over the past 20 or so years, and to have benefited from being part of a community that embraced what was at the time a radical and wildly innovative, yet very simple (mechanically) modern ruleset in the shape of DBM, which came bursting onto the scene after several decades of rather tired, iterative updates 1st-through-7th sets (and derivatives thereof).

DBM however, because of it's success, became "played-out" for a lot (but not all) of the community, with most all jumping on the bandwagon of FoGAM - more I suspect on the basis that it allowed the community to stay together, socialising, drinking and pushing toy soldiers around together, but with a different set of intellectual challenges to underpin it after the challenges and puzzles inherent in DBM had all been all but overcome.

But, in the shift away from DBM, neither FoGAM (nor DBMM) ever seemed to quite capture the mass imagination of the community in the same way as the WRG to DBM transition did, and neither has proved to be the sweep-all-in-its-path behemoth that DBM was, nor have they developed the longevity, nor the enduring multi-national international appeal that DBM did in it's heyday either.  

Looking back, I'm not sure this is the "fault" of either ruleset - it may just be a historical accident that we all happened to be shoving pikemen and legionaries around when the first "modern" ruleset - that focused on command and control, not kit, that graded troops by their effect rather than their weapons, and which understood that simplicity of design was absolutely something worth sacrificing whole mountains of details in the pursuit of when it came to game design and philosophy.

My sense is that the UK scene is still, maybe subconsciously, waiting for another WRG-DBM transition Eureka! moment, when a radical new ruleset that tears up the past with a raft of game-changing innovations will once again be able to have a bloody good go at uniting the world wide community of Ancients gamers ... and until that time comes, every ruleset that doesn't fill those enormous boots will be judged, and rejected in favour of marking time with the familiarity of the status quo.

The underlying problem however, I suspect, is that we have already had the our Eureka! moment we will ever see - unlike the late 90's there are now just too many games in too many other periods where almost all possible innovations have already been released into he wild - and so that elusive new "innovative" system for Ancients that everyone is subconsciously waiting for has already become familiar.

Is ADLG that mythical system?

Emphatically not - it has huge nods to DBx, huge nods to FoG in its mechanics and design, and to be fair it makes no real claim to be innovative either. It has it's quirks, most notably that it is arguably a little more dice-dependent than FoGAM or DBx - but this is no accident, it's something that has been deliberately designed-in, and as long as you embrace it, it simply serves to add flavour, memorable moments and narrative colour to the ebb and flow of the game ... and most importantly of all, it helps prevent what is after all just a highly abstracted game played with toy soldiers being taken too seriously

Irrespective of what ADLG might lack in Eureka! innovations, it most certainly is an already-bomb-proof system that allows almost all types and flavours of armies to be played competitively. It uses slightly fewer figures than FoGAM or DBX, doesn't (really) need re-basing and most importantly it is already widely played in Europe, and is picking up steam in the US amongst the same crowd who used to be such keen participants in international DBM events.

If the UK Ancients crowd all could somehow get together, forget the trench-warfare of FoGAM vs DBMM, and take a collective decision that it would be better for all concerned to move en-mass to ADLG, in much the same was as seemed to happen with WRG-FoGAM, and then (almost) with DBM-FoGAM (and DBM-DBMM) then that international community that used to be such a cool thing to be a part of would suddenly be back, and the whole UK scene would be rolling dice, drinking beer and learning a brand new ruleset together once again.

The only two differences would be that this time, ADLG already has had almost all of the kinks beaten out of it by the French circuit so won't need near-term revisions, and that - for the first time - ADLG s a set that "hasn't been been invented here".

Only time will tell if these prove to be insurmountable obstacles....

OK, enough of the (unplanned) essay, and on with the reports! 


Vexillia said...

I agree with a lot of your analysis. There's some figures that back up what you say about the DBM to FOGAM/DBMM to FOGR transitions.

To my shame, I too have lots of unused medieval armies sitting in boxes. After reading this I may well invest in a copy of ADLG at Britcon.

I do, however think that you could do a little more editing and proof reading. There are some horrendous sentences in the above that detract from your message. As an essay it's 9/10 for content but 5 or 6/10 for style and grammar. ;-)

Keep up the good work.

Vexillia said...

Sorry, the above link isn't the most direct. Here's a better link to some figures on the fragmentation of the UK Ancients scene.

Madaxeman said...

Yep, it's a bit of a rambling rant I admit - however I didn't sit down with the idea of writing it, it just sort of happened so if it appears unplanned that's because it is!

Vexillia said...

Rambling yes; rant far from it. You raise some important points that deserve to be widely discussed.

dfmbrown said...

Dbm also rode the rise of the Internet. I think PB made a mistake in not going from DBr to the horse and musket era, which might sound odd for a comment about ancients, but it could have swept that era up too and reinforced the culture that war gaming was done with elements not units, which WRG had a lock on.


David F Brown

Madaxeman said...

Good spot on the timing and the internet - I guess we are even less likely to see a new "internet" than a new "innovative ruleset" though!

Ethan Zorick said...

I think ADLG makes a few key improvements over DBM and/or FoG. First, ADLG in its "native format" of a 200 pt game is fast. It is pretty reliably over in 2.5 hours. Second, not only is it over but it comes to a conclusion - one of the armies has broken in that time. Next, there is no lengthy "mopping up phase in ADLG. Nor is there a lengthy "running about the map getting to the fighting phase." In other words, both the opening skirmish is abbreviated and the ending Benny Hill phase is gone.

Finally, ADLG has the virtue (for us English language folks) of being pretty well playtested and also has an active and engaged author who wants to make sure things are clear. We don't get the "well if you really understood English you would be able to parse out my sentence with 7 sub-clauses and get it right." I also think a fair amount of thought went into the points systems and it is reasonably internally consistent. There may be better or worse values in troops, but it is balance between elite, armor, etc seems pretty good.

I think DBM really did ride the wave of the early internet and one interesting phenomenon now is that I don't see any game getting the sort of intense discussion that DBM had on the old DBM email list. I think people have a certain amount of time for "internet stuff" and are now being diverted by Facebook, cat videos, etc. Back in the 1990s there wasn't as much stuff to play with - so people were much more active with the DBM list.

Stephen Tanner said...

I have been trying to get some interest going at my gaming club and have played about 4 or 5 games with ADLG over the last couple of months and so far I am really enjoying it.

I have tried both 25mm and 15mm and both seem to work equally well.

So far of the people I have introduced one pair seemed to really like the game and one really didn't as he thought it was basically DBM re-hashed.

The difficulty is getting a big enough group of players playing regularly to make a foothold at both club and tournament scenes.

One thing I would be interested in your take on is - it seems there might be a push to play 300pt games in UK - is this just because we can't leave anything alone? I understand it is played at 200pts in France mostly? I like the 200pts as you can comfortably get a game done at a club night - and at tournaments I think not cramming the games in or maybe playing more people in 2.5hr games would be better than the traditional 3.5hr games - thoughts?

Ethan Zorick said...

I have been quite happy with 200pts and feel it has enough tactical choices and a decent size that it works well for me. Especially as you note for club nights there isn't the rush to finish or half-finished games. It is very nice for tournaments as you can comfortably finish 3 games before dinner time...

Madaxeman said...

I wouldn't say there is a "push", more that we tried 300 at one of the two events that have been run, and 200 at the other.

Personally I like 300, but the idea of playing 3 games in a day rather than 2 (in a normal competition day) also appeals.

ADLG is close enough to DBM that someone who hated DBM probably won't like this, however it's worth considering how much of the "I don't like DBM" thought process came from blocked recoils and doing element combat one by one as micro-level "skills" that affected the overall gameplay. By making all combat simultaneous, and having cohesion steps instead of recoils both of these are gone, which does drag the player out of the weeds compared to DBM

John said...

Interesting essay. I think you already touched on it but we are spoiled for choice these days. The internet and self publishing will ensure that we never have the early days of 1 set of rules actually dominating the market. There are probably several reasons for this. 1) As there is choice out there, folks no longer have to swallow the bitter pill and play whatever is available in abundance. 2) Rules tend to go in cycles. They start simple and slowly get ore and more complex to the point where only the gamers who like an involved multi-step process (fiddly?) will play them. 3) Everybody has their view has there own idea on how ancient and medieval armies actually performed. If the rules do not fit their world view, they will likely not play them. 4) The level of abstraction going to be a key determiner. Some folks like detail, with weapons, equipment as well as troop grades to determine the outcomes of battles while others prefer these to be abstracted to the point where the troops are ubiquitous units rated to encompass weapons, armor and so forth in just a stat or two.

In the previous decade, we saw DBM and DBA dominate. Then it fractured to DBA for small games and either DBMM or FoGAM for the large. Now I see it fracturing even further in this decade with Impetus, DBMM, FoGAM, LAdG all being contenders. DBA seems to be the only game that has kept its margin of players over the years though that community has fractured, at least in th Washington DC area with the DBA 2.2+ or 3.0 split.

Mike B said...

I really hope that ADLG takes hold. I think you were right to point out the golden age that was DBM. It's an old topic to discuss "what if" DBA and DBM had been released with a glossy illustrated book like Black Powder and Internet forums. A number of gamers, myself included skipped FOG comps and went into Flames of War ( WW2 , not ISIS!). A number of Flames players seem to be very positive about returning to Ancients and Medieval competitions. I can recommend ADLG and will be off to attend a small comp in Thornbury on the 9th August. It will be very refreshing to be have a large pile of destroyed elements back beside me rather than destroyed tanks!
All the best
Mike B

Madaxeman said...

whats the event at Thornbury ? I didn't see it posted on the ADLG forum, which may be amissed opportunity to get the word out.

If the ruleset is going to generate any momentum it really does need players to be out there and seen to be talking it up, and posting on forums is a key way of doing that

Mike B said...

One Dayer in Thornbury Leisure Centre on the 9th August, a small competition in a military modelling show. I only heard about it from Word of mouth. I believe I had one of the last places. If you, or someone else with a grip of the rules, would be prepared to be referee we could always make use of my local Firestorm games for a Competition in Cardiff before Christmas? Massive number of tables and food on site?
Mike B

Vexillia said...

Spurred on by your article I've been reading the ADLG forum. Two points:

[1] Shame the ADLG event at Britcon has been cancelled.
[2] UK players displaying a touch of NIH (Not Invented Here).

I think they both have the potential to become obstacles to your desire of a pan-European competition scene. I know the NIH is only preferred game size (300 pts vs French standard 200 pts) and victory points (the system in the rules requires some arithmetic) but why re-invent the wheel?

Madaxeman said...

Getting in another event before Xmas would be good - there is really only Derby and Warfare to avoid in the mainstream event calendar I think. If you can email me and suggest some dates we can have a look at whats possible, and Cardiff is always a fun place to go!

In terms of "NIH", I don't think game size is an issue at all. I have a slight personal leaning towards 300, but thats just me - it's not enough to make me not want to play 200 if that's the consensus.

The US crowd have recently worked out that you can use a very simple 3/1/0 scoring system (win/indecisive/broken) plus %age losses as "goal difference" and end up with essentially exactly the same final placings as the French scoring system so that seems to make sense as well.

alan Cutner said...

Don't forget the Scottish League tourny on 10th October in Glasgow.

I agree with all of Tims comments. I've also played both 200 and 300pts.I have a slight preference for 300pts because
1. Its always nice to have more toys to play with
2. More troops makes it easier to have reserves/second lines, so more historic (argue about that at will!)

But I'll play both 200 and 300 quite happily. Meantime I'll be interested to see if the ITC is resurrected as an ADLG tournament.

J.B. MacAdam said...

ADLG is a Great system! I have tried literally dozens of games systems in the ancient/medieval periods and this seems just right for me. Unfortunately, I live in an area with very little interest in historical miniatures (Southwestern Oregon) and have a difficult time finding opponents. If anyone out there is living in the region, please feel free to contact me via g-mail. I have 2 armies built (Classical Greek and Early Imperial Roman) and several more in the works. Keep up the good work Madaxeman and thanks for the reviews and game reports.

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