In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

So What's the Point?

With all the excitement building over the imminent release of Hail Caesar! the Yahoo Group (less than two months old and the rules aren't even out, yet and they have more members than Legion and Empire ever got! No I'm not bitter.) and Forums are already a buzz about supplements.

That was before Rick Priestly even asked what people would like.

This has kicked off another debate about points and army lists. For many decades we have had the WRG/DBx/FoG approach, with Chinese restaurant menus of troops and building an army to a certain amount of points. Some like them since it gives them a handy guide to what they can include in their army and limits on how many. There are some highly subjective and very tenuous quantifiers as well, although I think any mook should be able to figure out that a heavily armoured cavalryman is just a bit more valuable and useful than a guy in rags with a pointed stick. I wanted to take the high road and make Legion and Empire 'pointless' but I was pushed into it by the parties interested in publishing the rules.

I think this illustrates one of the fundamental problems with ancient wargaming.  Many of these lists are based on some very sketchy textual and epigraphical evidence. We cannot even agree on the colour of a legionaries tunic and yet we are to come up with an official and binding army list when all we have are literally some scratches on a rock? This of course creates endless arguing and spilling of ink in the gaming media as people bring out new research to challenge the old lists. Games set after 1700 can get away from points and army lists because there are more historical sources, including actual orders of battle upon which one can build one's army.

Plus the whole idea of selecting your order of battle off a menu like you're ordering a meal just doesn't work for me. The lying awake at night wondering if it is worth the points expenditure to go for the armour and long spear upgrade is extremely silly. (And I lost a Warhammer Ancient Battles game because I did not spend the extra points to get the long thrusting spear option!) I doubt Caesar had these issues. He had the troops he had on hand and did what he could with them.

So I'm thinking some sort of card or dice driven random selection process might not be better. One could start with the scenario and some basic core troops and then dice or draw cards for the extras to flesh out your order of battle. The possible selections could be varied by the scenario, the army or even the results of the last game giving a simple campaign mechanic. Peter Pig's Wars of the Roses and Samurai rules use some opposed die rolling to modify the orders of battle and generate a scenario. I'm trying to incorporate these ideas into the revision of Blood & Chivalry I was working on. I also have vague thoughts of doing the same for Legion and Empire, but going back and dismantling it to rebuild seems like a lot of work right now.

Many, like myself, have been turned off by the tournament style army lists and welcomed Hail Caesar's scenario driven approach as a breath of fresh air. Let's hope Rick is listening and resists the pressure to turn his game into a Chinese dinner.


  1. I agree with most of what you say. However, I don't think that the inclusion of points prohibits scenario based play.

    As an example, I've got similar ideas for using card based army generation. But I got the idea from two other examples -- a WAB battle I read about online (Romans), and someone else's DBM campaign (Wars of the Roses). Both threw out points normally associated with those systems, and used a set core army with card generated extras.

    I fear, however, that people like you and I are in the minority. The internet is flooded with discussion of the "metagame" of the minutia if selecting optimized armies for various game systems. It seems that more people prefer this sort of play.

  2. True. But having point-centric army lists does open the door to a host of gremlins.
    I take hope in the fact that I doubt HC will include much in the way of the usual armopur and weapon upgrades (such as in WRG or WAB) which really ramped up the min-maxing.

  3. Again I will agree with those comments. Too bad you aren't in my neighborhood -- I'd have a like-minded opponent!

  4. While I agree with you, the problem comes when someone says "these are the troops I have. I don't have those other possible troops."

    What I like better (for folks like the above) is to say something like "80% of all points must be made up of the following core troops . . ."

    In other words, make sure that most of the army is composed of those troops which we know (or at least believe) were historically its core troop types.

    While not a perfect solution to the "super trooper" armies, it could help.

    Still, I wish such limits were not necessary.

    -- Jeff

  5. I think that is the central conundrum, every gamer's collection is different.

    But if we could make the results generic enough such as 'core troop' 'support' 'ally' etc.

    Or gamers could just make a set of cards based upon their collection and draw X number of extra cards beyond their core units. Some of the cards could be blanks.

  6. James, some very sensible comments which I agree with totally. And don't talk to me about supplements! If it's a set of ancient rules in a big expensive book it should have all you need for any of the main periods.

    I too am not impressed by army lists - do your research and set up your armies accordingly. If gamers want to collect unbalanced and probably unhistorical armies, thats up to them. I fear we are all suffering due to the requirements of competition gamers. Let competitions set their own lists for particular competitions and leave the rules alone.

  7. Keith, in extensive discussions with other players, I can tell you that the research you want is not something that can be done without peer review.. (elephant drawn scythed chariots anyone?)- No, we are not suffering due to competition gamers, in fact the drive from the competition gamers is actually giving us better analysis and understanding. Or would you prefer to go back to the individual research of the 60's and 70's which gave us Sassanid Irr barbarian B class with Globe hats?