I’ve reviewed recently the latest edition of Field of Glory (FOG) Ancient’s rules, and this has re-sparked an interest in me for this wargaming era. After looking around a bit, it soon became evident that in the Colonies, at least, the gold standard is now a set of rules named Art de la Guerre (or ALDG), a translated French effort, penned by one Herve Caille and published by Onyx Editions. It’s not a particularly inexpensive tome, weighing in at $43.00 US, but this does get you a full color softcover with 239 pages of Cohort and Phalanx goodness. Its supporting Website is superb, well laid out with a veritable ton of free downloads supporting the game.
Now Napoleonics has always been my first love, but Ancients is another, and in fact was the second period I bought lead for. This was way back when stationed at Fort Hood, TX, playing WRG 5th Edition rules, and I picked up the only complete army I could find. This would be Late Imperial Romans, a reasonably good army, at least until the 6th Edition when all of a sudden they got rearmed with Storm Bolters and Light Sabres. Yup, I know which end of a Sarissa is which, and this made me all the more intrigued. Here is what I found out.
Army Lists R US
It might be odd to start with army lists when reviewing rules, but that was the first thing that jumped out of me when I plunked down my shekels and opened ALDG. This book is a one stop shopping resource for Ancient and Medieval wargaming. Of 239 pages, from page 77 ‘til the end you have nothing but Army Lists, those ubiquitous little tables that describe each army, the troop types therein, how many you can have on the table and how much it will drain the point treasury. There are 283 different Army Lists included with number uno being Sumer and Akkad and the last being American Western Indian such as the Apache and Sioux.
Why is this significant? Well, there are two reasons, the first being that you won’t have to buy any other publications to play this game, ever. This is not only significant, but different, because it shatters a long, long tradition of Ancients gaming whereby the base rules come with no or just a couple of Army Lists. Then you have to go out and purchase additional books for each set of Army Lists you’re interested in. For example, both the current version of FOG miniature and FOG for the computer are now releasing their first add-on Army List pub, Immortal Fire which covers the Bronze Age thru the Roman Republic. These 144 pages, however, will cost you an extra £25.00. The computer version of Immortal Fire is a more palatable $14.95 US, but you get the picture.
The second thing is that the ALDG Army Lists are a bit more player friendly in both presentation and content. Even before the couple of pages which explains how the Army List system works, there is a complete table of contents for the Army Lists section of the book by itself. At the end is a complete, alphabetised index for all the Army Lists included, and nothing else.
The Army Lists individually are different in a few ways as well. They are simpler, less detailed and because of that, IMHO, produce more historically realistic armies. A couple of examples explain this better. In ADLG there are two Army Lists for the Persians – Achaemenid Persians and Late Achaemenid Persians. Going back to WRG 6th and even today I have seen as many as six different and distinct Army Lists for these guys. And the lists seem to be a bit shorter because they do not have as many of the speciality units that other rules use because some Legion somewhere decided to chunk their Lorica Segmentata armor for leather because it got too hot in July one year. ALDG essentially says that while something like this may have indeed happened; its extreme rarity does not justify a new Army List or line item within one. Business as usual was sorta akin why every World War II German player has to have at least one King Tiger, and I wholeheartedly agree with the ADLG approach. The lists, however, do specify if each army has an historical Strategist (the most effective type of commander in the game), and this is a nice touch. For example, the Persians get Cyrus II and Mardonius.
The actual rules section of ADLG continues its user friendly perspective by starting with the index for the rules section coming in front of the table of contents. This is a neat idea. Once the rules are reasonably learned, there will nevertheless be times when it is necessary to check something specific. Having an alphabetized index at the front of the book (actually, kudos for having an index at all) makes the search a little quicker and easier. Otherwise, the rules portion of ALDG is organized pretty much as one would expect. At the beginning there is an Introduction chapter, followed by one that discusses various troop types and finally a third chapter on Command. At the end there are chapters on Terrain, Setting Up a game and finally one on Budget (the best way I have ever heard to describe a game’s point system). In between the game functions are presented in chapters that correspond to ADLG’s Sequence of Play: Movement (inc. special moves like Evade or Uncontrolled Charge), Shooting, Melee (with an excellent bit on making units in combat Conform their battlelines), Route and Pursuit, and finally, Victory.
While most Ancients rules, to be honest, are modifications and extensions of the old WRG system, give credit to ADLG in that their game play is legitimately something different. Indeed, this game actually has specific scales (!) with 1 cm equal to 15 meters, one turn equal to 30 minutes and a stand of infantry representing between 500 to 1000 men (half that if light infantry) and cavalry between 125 and 250 horse. In one of the few things that I was not enamored with, the game uses scale dependent Units of Distance instead of inches or centimeters. Otherwise the game is based on Units where one stand is one Unit, and can be played at multiple scales. Armies for tournaments are limited at 200 points (and a stand of Heavy Swordsman would cost 6 points per if of Mediocre Quality, 8 if Ordinary and 10 if Elite), but there are options for larger battles of 400 points per side or more. Play seems much quicker, and the actual rules easier to pick up and understand than the competition, but not one lick less historical.
As noted above, playing ADLG exposes some truly unique game processes, starting with Command. Yes, leaders have the obligatory Command Radius dependent on their status as Ordinary, Competent, Brilliant or an historically named Strategist. However, with these designations come a variable number of Command Points. These must be expended to win Initiative and to move Units. In the former case all the Command Points of each side halved is added to a modified die roll (DRM) with high die winning the initiative and with it the rights to do such things as choose to attack or defend and gain deployment advantages. In the latter case, a Command Point must be expended to move each unit within a leader’s corps – Right, Left or Center – and this is determined by rolling a D6, adding the leaders Command Point value, then halving it. This will be the number of units the Leader can move that turn. There are some complexities to be sure, but in general this is the way the system works, simple but effective.
This also applies to the way Shooting and Melee are handled. For shooting, the firing unit and its target roll a modified D6, each adding their Quality value to the roll, and the target unit adding its Protection value as well. The same Heavy Swordsman noted above, for example, has a protection value of one. If the shooter wins the roll off, the target suffers the loss of one Cohesion Point, and this is the maximum loss per turn given the relative weakness of ranged weapons back then. Of note is the concept of Protection to show the elegant lack of complexity in ADLG. The one point Protection rating is universal, and does not go up or down because the attacker may have some sort of different weapon as it does in other rules.
Melee is similar. When opposing units/stands meet the two players each roll a D6 modified for Quality, Disorder, flank attack, attached leaders, Support and Terrain then add it to a base point value each unit retains. The high die wins and depending upon the numerical difference between the two rolls, the loser can lose from one to three Cohesion Points or Rout. The same Heavy Swordsman we’ve been discussing starts with four Cohesion Points per stand and this seems to be the max in the game for any unit type. Once again elegant simplicity is key as unit type vs unit type modifiers are not nearly in abundance as in other games. The same can be said for other modifiers.
The game ends when one side or the other takes units unit losses of various types that exceed its Demoralization Level, which in turn equals the number of Units the army began the game with. Given routing units mandates a two point loos, and losing a fortified camp will cost you six, the game can turn very quickly, which is how it should be.
ALDG was a very refreshing change from the Ancients games I’ve played in the past, and reminded me a lot of how the ACW game Fire & Fury changed that pewter genre forever. It’s the idea that by reducing detail and complexity, not only do you make the game quicker and easier (as in FUN) to play, but you make it more realistic as well. Following this thought process, garnished with its all in one presentation and unique combat and command rules, it’s easy to see why ADLG has taken US gaming by storm.
I’m sold. In fact I’m sold enough to start painting my Hollywood . . . er, I mean, Trajanic . . . Romans and reconsider my thoughts on the book’s price tag. In reality, looks like I got a steal.
Photos by the author or from the ALDG Website.