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Subject: Go Tell the Spartans, Passer-by... rss

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Alexius Exfalso
United Kingdom
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Here is courage, mankind's finest possession, here is
the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win,
and it is a good thing his city and all the people share with him
when a man plants his feet and stands in the foremost spears
relentlessly, all thought of foul flight completely forgotten,
and has well trained his heart to be steadfast and to endure,
and with words encourages the man who is stationed beside him.
Here is a man who proves himself to be valiant in war.
With a sudden rush he turns to flight the rugged battalions
of the enemy, and sustains the beating waves of assault.

I've always had this thing about Ancient Greek warfare in the 5th century BCE; call it a hang-up, if you will. So imagine my dissapointment when I discovered the available tactical games rules were generic, bland and distinctly uninspired. Phalanx pushes forward, phalanx gets pushed back; phalanx pushes forward, phalanx vanishes. Bleugh.

So I gave up on it, figured it was a dead loss and one day I would have to get my act together and write myself a set that did the subject matter justice.

Forward-wind years. Languidly scanning the lists over on Web Grognards I found a link to Hoplomachia; jaded, I opened up the page, downloaded and perused with all due sense of resignation. By the end of the introduction, I was excited: Good Gracious me if it isn't a winner!

From the intro, thus:

What was to be done? The Captain could not bring himself to the terrible admission that Hoplite battles were tedious; they couldn't have been for those who fought and died in them. It must be the rules...well, he had no great attachment to them, so try another. He searched feverishly through his vast disorganised piles of rules, while at the same time re-reading Thucydides and Xenophon and their pals, and also seeing what the likes of Victor Davis Hanson and Nick Sekunda had to say on the matter; and soon he realized that he had a problem: he could not find a set which spiritually simulated Hoplite Warfare.
Spiritually, you say? As usual, the Captain was looking to capture not merely the mechanics, but the flavour and aroma of a specific era, a difficult trick for a set of commercial rules designed to be used for armies from 3000 B.C. to 500 A.D. or whatever. He wanted to recreate, using lead figures and dice, the same impression of Classic Greek Warfare that Hanson does with words in his "The Western Way of Warfare" replete with god-appeasing rites, emboldening paeans being sung, men nervously edging under their neighbour's shield, spears crashing through bronze, wood and linen, and sorrowful heralds asking to gather up their dead.

Now, this I dig.

Onto the rules.

No, first, the components. This is a set of miniature rules (though, of course playable in a hex and counter fashion, as indeed I do) and so we have the rules book, 'The Armies of Hellas' (a resource text), and the players aids. And are they nice, you ask? Achingly beautiful, truly. Superb. Don't take my word for it, raddled libertine I am - download the stuff and look for yourself.

Every game has its terminology, and most of it is a little embarrassing in public. Not so Hoplomachia; its all in Attic Greek, you see. Here's a blast: 'So, raising the Paeon and my Aretewith it, my chaps made the approach; following move, got a boost from the hieres and went into the epidromos; the other guy biffed his andreia and legged it - sucks to be his hegemon...

And now in English: Armies have two morale factors - arete and andreia. Arete is their overall morale, and is modified both before and during the engagement by ritual observances (sacrifice, breakfast, speeches, the singing of the battle hymn on the plus side; the intimidating aspect of the opposition and drawbacks in battle on the other). When arete is extinguished, the army gives it up (although victory can be gained by holding the bodies of the fallen at the end of the scenario, too). Andreia is literally 'manliness': it is the morale of individual units, their own moral threshold.

As for the rudiments of battle itself: movement may disorder (which is a pain) and different types of unit may deploy with varying degrees of finesse. Missile fire (belos) harrasses rather than kills; the 'belos charge' allows psiloi and peltastes to rush up, let loose a volley and then withdraw; the phalanx on the receiving end may (or even must, if the die role dictates) release ekdromoi to catch the bleeders.

Cavalry - the notable thing is the rule set governing hammipoi, light infantry accompanying the horsemen into battle clutching the horses' tails or bridles. A very, very nice touch.

And the main course - hoplites. The fight procedes in three stages: the approach, to build up momentum and boost morale with the battle hymn, the epidromos phase, the initial charge, preceded by morale boosting sacrifice on the first assault of the game, and the subsequent othismos, the shoving match resulting from the other guys being worthy of the contest. The mechanism to resolve all this is eloquent, and can be mastered in a single sitting.

Overall, this is magnificent stuff; erudite, witty, immersive and aesthetically very pleasing. The army lists are comprehensive and well researched, the resulting armies challenging and fun.

This game oozes period feel and charisma - and, astonishingly, it is free.

This rules set is crying out for a Vassel adaptation, at least, if not actually development and release as a physical, honest to God board game. Download it today, buy the Osprey titles by Nic Sekunda, read Xenaphon and treat yourself to a nice hot slice of polemos.

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Peter Mumford
United States
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ceci n'est pas une pipe
I'm not even a wargamer but
this is a great review, and makes this game sound tempting. I love historical simulations, although most of my games are more abstract than this (i.e. Perikles).
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