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! 

5 Jul 2015

Renaissance (ish) Chinese Musketeers for FoGR

This painting project has been hanging around since - I suspect - late 2012 when I think I bought some Lamcashire Games Arab and Chinese musket-armed figures at Warfare. Some of the Arabs were done in time to appear as Maratha infantry at Clevedon 2013 but the Chinese have languished in the painting pile .... until now!

You can click on these images to get a bigger picture:







They are from Lancashire Games Boxer Rebellion range (what with me never being one to go for the obvious morph) and have the twin advantages of being a/ cheap, and b/ definitely not obviously belonging to any actual Renaissance Chinese historical era, which is my excuse for using them as generic musketeers or arquebusiers for any sort of Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian or other army from that FoGR army list book.

In an even more shameless morphing plan, they were painted to match a front rank of Essex Han-era Chinese spearmen, who you can see in the last picture. The Lancashire figures are stylistically very different, and a lot taller... but at wargaming ranges the difference is not too ridiculous. Sort of.

And given that they will only surface sporadically, getting 10 bases of interesting-looking infantry for under £7 is a pretty decent deal in anyone's book.

The real upside would be if someone comes out with a set of rules covering the Boxer Rebellion using DBX basing conventions. When that happens I'll be halfway to starting another period too!

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