Tuesday, 5 March 2013

WAB Chariot Wars 2

Moving on from my moan the other day about the WAB unit compositions for the Assyrian army being impossible to work out when using the HaT boxed sets (the same also applies to the Caesar ones, by the way), I then went on to try out the special rules to see how they worked. What I found really surprised me,. and led me to wonder if the Assyrian Army's rules had actually been play-tested at all.

Now I know all rule writers try and inject a bit of historical flavour into each army included in their Army Lists. They use special rules, and then introduce the odd tweak here and there to try and give a particular army the "feel" of the original. This is very hard to do with Ancients, as often the evidence is so poor and contradictory that one has little to work with. In light of this, if one does decide to give an Ancient army a bit of flavour, then it's vital to play-test the rules to make sure they actually work in a game.

Now one vital thing has to be remembered about the Assyrian army in WAB Chariot Wars. It cannot field a unit of Bows. None. Nil,. Nada. Zilch. It is verboten. Neither can it field a unit of Spearmen, or Slingers. No. Every unit has to consist of equal numbers of a second type of figure. Bowmen have to be mixed 50/50 with Spearmen, or Slingers. Slingers can only be fielded in a 50/50 mix with Bowmen, and Spearmen have to be mixed 50/50 with Bowmen. And that applies to the standard Assyrian Infantry, and the Auxiliary Infantry, and the Cavalry.

So how does that work in the game? Well, it doesn't.

Now most people I know use a fairly standard size for their Infantry units in WAB. It's a compromise between front rank fighting power, how much frontage the unit takes up on the battlefield, ease of manoeuvre  and keeping a decent number of ranks in order to get a good Close Combat Bonus (+1 for each extra rank at start of Close Combat, up to total of +3 for normal Infantry). Some folk use a 20 strong unit with a 5 man front rank. I tend to use a 24 strong unit, with 6 men in the front rank.

Now I want to demonstrate how the unit compositions insisted on by WAB Chariot Wars leave the Assyrian army at a huge disadvantage.

Here is a unit of Assyrian Auxiliaries in my usual 24 man formation . The front rank is Spearmen, the second Bowmen, the third Spearmen and the fourth again Bows. It fulfils all the WAB unit composition rules for the Assyrian army, but it's at a real disadvantage on the table top. Why? Because its fire-power is reduced by 25%. Using the special rules in Chariot Wars, the second rank of Bows can fire over the front rank at, I am assuming, full effect. But then the Massed Archery rules come into effect for any Bows behind that, and their fire-power is divided by two. So in this formation, the 12 Bowmen only have 9 shots. OK, so that's not a massive reduction  but why force players to take it at all? What's the trade-off?

There are two options that one can use to maximise one's fire-power and use the Bowmen to their full advantage (and by that I mean to make them the equal of other Bowmen in other armies). One can take the 24 strong unit and make it 12 wide, with the whole of the second row being Bows. They can then fire at full effect. But that results in a huge frontage and a unit that is hard to manoeuvre, as well as being dreadfully fragile in Close Combat (only a +1 Rank Bonus)

The third option is to just stick to tiny 12 man units of 6 Spear and 6 Bow. That way at least one can have a reasonable frontage and some ease of manoeuvre  The fire-power (6) is only slightly down from the 24 strong unit (9), but its chances of surviving Close Combat are almost nil.

So a lot of disadvantages arise from being forced to have mixed units and being banned from fielding Bow, Spear or Sling-only units. But surely there must be some benefits to those compulsory mixed formations?

Well, no. I really can't think of any at all. Okay, so the Bowmen get some degree of protection in Close Combat by having a row of Spears in front, but so what? The Archery rules don't offer any advantage to taking one's archers so far into harm's way that they will find such protection useful, and any sensible commander would ensure they keep their vulnerable missile troops well away from the major punch-ups in the first place. So in practice there is little or no advantage at all in using such mixed formations, and the fact that the rules FORCE one to adopt them is a nonsense.

Now I am sure that the writers did some research. And yes, there is some evidence out there that the Assyrians sometimes fought with their Bowmen protected by Spearmen in close proximity. But it is stretching the evidence far further than it is safe to do so, if one extrapolates from it that the Assyrian units ALWAYS formed and fought that way.

I would suggest that the best way to handle it is to make the Mixed Unit composition rules optional  If one chooses to field the types as separate units, then they stay that way for the duration of the game. If one chooses to field them as mixed units - in whatever proportion, it doesn't have to be 50/50 - then they also stay that way for the duration of the game. This solves the ratio problem caused by the figure types in the plastic boxed sets, and it also leaves the choice of how to field one's units to their best advantage down to the commander, which is as it should be.

ps. And no, those are not yet finished. Although painted and varnished, they await the arrival of some new 2mm thin laser-cut bases.


CelticCurmudgeon said...

Dear Poacher,

Against whom are the bearded meanies going to war? If you will be painting their opponents, then it really is irrelevant how you organize your troops. And if you are regularly playing with one opponent, then simply discuss the issue with that person. You have advanced historically sound reasoning - why should someone else's mistake drive your collecting?
Your painting is quite nice thus far. keep up the great work!

Poacher said...

Oh, I just pick armies because they interest me or because I like the colours. I might do historical opponents, but to be honest I am veering towards a Parthian army next. OK, so there's a few hundred years between them but what's that when playing a friendly game(and all mine are friendly)!

Nice painting? Should have gone to spec-savers. :-)

I can paint reasonably well (see my older posts for examples), but for most of my wargames figures I have now regressed to a plain old block colour with black lining style, with glossy varnish over the top. It's quick and easy and looks fine on the tabletop, even if close up it would not pass muster. :-)

I still paint my fantasy figures using my old style shades, highlights and inks method.


CelticCurmudgeon said...

Any paint job done with respect for history and esthetics is a good paint job. From what I've seen and read, such is the case with "the bearded meanies" where you have taken care not to rush anything, have thought about what you want, and seem to be enjoying the interaction with your subjects. You can always experiment with left over figures.
Dry brushing is actually quite easy once you get the hang of it. But then again the system you described seems eminently work-woman like. One alternative to dry brushing is the process I call damp brushing which works nicely on wood such as the battering ram and chariot. A medium brown chariot will have the wood work picked up immediately by applying some light brown with a medium dry , dampish brush.
Anyway, it's off to read some books on ancient warfare that arrived today, that is after I paint a base skin tone on some Roman Early Imperial infantry.
Continue with your recovery.
The Celtic Curmudgeon