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Subject: IMPETUS Review rss

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Andy Watkins
United Kingdom
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I don’t usually do full blown reviews, but as there are so few reviews of Impetus around, and as it is such an interesting set of rules I have decided to try and do it justice. I have tried to be as impartial as I can, and I have pointed out the areas that I believe some players will not like. I should say though that overall this is my favourite set of Ancient miniature wargames rules.

The full set of Impetus rules and the first two official sets of army lists can be purchased directly from Italy on the Impetus website (everything is in English and several other languages) They are produced in full colour, well illustrated and generally to a high standard. The rules book in particular is spiral bound making it very easy to turn to the page you are interested in and lay it down keeping the page. In addition to these purchasable hard copy rules and lists there is a large selection of beta lists available to download for free, largely covering those historical periods that do not yet have a published formal list. These beta lists are excellent. I very much wish they had produced something similar for Field of Glory before all the books came out.

I must stress that the author/publisher has produced a sister set of rules called “Basic Impetus” that are about 90% the same as full Impetus. By far the biggest difference is that they are FREE! And are fully supported by ample free army lists, all available from the website (link above). Apart from the cost the main difference in the rules is that Basic Impetus does not have a discipline/morale system or a points system. The former means that movement in particular is slightly simplified from the full rules (no big deal) whilst the later means that the Basic Impetus lists are fixed format armies very much like DBA whereas army lists in the full Impetus rules are more akin to DBM/FoG lists in that you have a points value for each unit and allowable minimums and maximums.

In my opinion that is about where the similarity with DBA/FoG ends. These rules are very different to that family of rules, they actually remind me much more of the old Armati rules.

Movement does not follow the IGOUGO model. Instead each army in split into 1-4 commands each controlled by a “general”. Both sides elect one of their commands to attempt activation, roll dice and see who wins. One who wins gets to do all moving, shooting and fighting with all units in that command. Once complete both sides elect a command that has not yet been activated and roll again to see who wins the activation roll. As such it is not strictly one of my commands followed by one of your commands, nor is it all of my commands followed by all of yours. It is different each turn.

Overall this is a simple mechanism, is fun and adds excitement and tension to the game. The only real downside as anyone who thinks it through would soon realise is that a unit from command A may attack an enemy unit, then later in a turn friendly unit B from another command may also attack the same enemy unit, what happens with friendly unit A who has already fought? The simple answer is that in most cases they fight again. This can seem quite complicated, but once you get used to the rules it does not seem to cause very many problems. I believe the advantages of this system outweigh the disadvantages.
See House Rule Nbr 1 below.

All units can move once, light cavalry are faster than heavy cavalry which are in turn heavier than heavy infantry etc. Fairly standard stuff. In Basic Impetus that is almost it. In full Impetus rules you are allowed to move more than once, but at a considerable risk. Normally after one free movement you are allowed to move again but this 2nd move has about a 50% chance of disordering you. Once disordered you may not make further moves this turn. NB You may always make the 1st free move even if disordered.

Overall I am fairly indifferent to the movement system, it’s ok, but I would not buy the rules and play the game because of the movement rules.

See House Rule Nbr 2 below

I am going to cover both of these together because they fundamentally use the same mechanism. All units have one very important combat value called the VBU it is used in a number of ways and describes the offensive combat capability of the unit as well as it’s defensive armour and even it’s morale status. The higher the number the better. How VBU is used throughout the rules is probably the most important part of the rules to understand. You will come to either love the elegance of the system, or hate it. Both are legitimate options but I would prefer you make a conscious decision you hate it rather than just a gut reaction based on the fact you don’t understand it 

In most cases Melee is simultaneous, i.e. both sides get to fight and inflict losses on the other, whilst in most cases shooting isn’t, only the shooter gets to inflict the losses (there are exceptions).

Your VBU is the number of combat dice you roll when either shooting or engaging in melee. For a unit such as say Mongol cavalry that can both shoot or melee there is still only ONE VBU number that covers both shooting and melee. There are of course different modifiers. Most shooting modifiers come down to range and type of weapon carried. Most melee modifiers are orientated around how good you are at “charging” (Impetus) and any bonus’s you get for very deep units (like pikes) or special weapons. Shooters will often end up rolling about 2-4 dice. Units engaged in melee will often end up rolling about 4-10 dice.

You roll the dice and every 6 rolled, or every pair of 5’s rolled is a hit. This tends to inflict somewhere around 0-2 hits in shooting and 1-3 hits in melee. Please note I am only giving these numbers to give you a feel for the game, some shooters roll more dice than this and some melee units roll less dice that above, these are just my opinion of the average numbers of dice rolled.

Now the clever bit that causes a lot of confusion. Combat in Impetus, (and I think Basic Impetus is almost identical), is a two stage process. Many rules have a inflict hits stage and then a saving throw for armour stage. Impetus is similar in this regard, in that after rolling the number of hits you then roll a cohesion test to determine what actual permanent damage you suffer to your fighting ability as a result of these hits. This is in fact VERY different from an armour saving throw. Because it is a single dice roll there is potentially a huge difference in effect between a “1” which is an automatic pass and in most cases will inflict little or no damage on the unit no matter how many “hits” that unit took in the combat whilst a “6” is an automatic fail and will often inflict very heavy losses on a unit.

OK I have given you the extreme view and perhaps not put it in a very positive light, partly because I want you to concentrate on this part of the review. In it’s simplest terms you take the VBU (combat value) of the defending unit and you deduct from that number, the number of hits you suffered this turn. So one hit will only lower the initial VBU value a little, whilst 3-4 hits will greatly reduce the VBU number. The lowest this number can ever be reduced to is “1”. You now roll a single cohesion test dice. If the rolled dice is higher than the “lowered VBU value” (VBU – hits) then the difference is the number of permanent losses to your VBU that you suffer. If the rolled number is equal or lower than the “Lowered VBU value” you normally suffer no damage, just becoming disordered. (if you were already disordered you take 1 permanent loss to your VBU).

As you can see if you work my example above through the cohesion test can have dramatically different results dependant upon whether you roll towards a 1 or towards a 6. Heavy troops in Impetus tend to have initial VBU values up around 6 which makes it quite difficult to inflict significant losses on them, this nicely simulates good armour, high training, good morale etc. As you inflict light losses on them their permanent VBU lowers and they become much more vulnerable to further losses (I like this). Light inf and cav, skirmishers etc tend to have VBU values around 2-3 which simulates less armour, more likelihood to run, remembering that heavy losses inflicted by a cohesion test does not always mean men are dead. They may have run away or had their morale badly shaken.

Overall once you get to grips with it this does work well, even though at first it “seems wrong”. There is an interesting and subtle difference between units that have a high natural VBU and those units that have a lower VBU but have high bonus’s. I will give you the classic example of Roman legionaries and Gallic warbands. Romans have a VBU of 6 plus very few bonus’s this means they may only roll 6 dice in combat but when taking losses it is against their very high VBU of 6 which makes them very resilient to losses. A Gallic warband only has a VBU of 4 but has substantial bonus’s to it’s charge for being impetuous and possibly for being part of a very deep warband, as such they may roll around 10 dice in the initial round of combat which sounds very impressive, (and it can be), but in turn they take any hits they suffer against a VBU of only 4 which means that in the cohesion test they are far more likely to suffer higher permanent losses to their combat power/cohesiveness for the same number of hits than the Romans.

However see House Rule Nbr 3 below

In melee if a unit loses combat it has to retreat, the winner may pursue and initiate another round of combat. If the combat is basically a draw then it continues into next turn.

Once you get the hang of it combat is actually fun and quick. It is charging/evading/counter charging that always end s up confusing me 

OK let’s say you are interested in trying the rules, the two things to consider first are, where can I get them and what models do I need. Both the free Basic Impetus rules and the full Impetus rules can be obtained from the website Try Basic Impetus first, that’s what they are there for. You can either base your figures of any size from 6mm to 28mm on the recommended sized Impetus bases for which a unit is normally the same dimensions as 4 DBA bases arranged in a 2X2 square, or whilst you are trying the rules, or if you wish to keep your figures based for compatibility with several rules sets, you can use multiples of DBA/FoG elements. As mentioned most units are comprised of 4 DBA elements. The exceptions being chariots, elephants , artillery skirmishers and hussite style wagons which only comprise 2 DBA bases in a single rank.


There is an active forum on the above website where the rules author Lorenzo is always willing to help you. He seems to be on the forum pretty much every day. As am I  Look for Captain Kremmen, though I am a fairly new player and unlikely to give you any help worth having!

My friends and I very much enjoy these rules, but I must say that we play with the following house rules. I have discussed each of these house rules with the rules author on the support forum and he sees nothing wrong with them for friendly games if that is how we like to play.

House Rule Nbr 1
Very small tweak this one. In the Impetus rules better generals get bonus’s to their activation roll making them more likely to win the initiative. Annoyingly in the earlier part of the game you often want to go 2nd to see what the other guy is doing. This gives the better general a disadvantage!! All we do is say that the winner of the activation roll gets to choose which of the 2 generals that rolled gets to activate. Small and subtle change, but feels “right” to us.

House Rule Nbr 2
A very simple house rule which my friends and I feel speeds up gameplay. The standard rules say that 1 unit of movement/shooting range = 1cms for 15mm figures. We make 1U = 2cms. This basically doubles all the ranges and movement rates. The real reason for doing this was to make units move faster. Heavy infantry would otherwise move very slowly and take hours to get into combat.

House Rule Nbr 3
This rule is probably the biggest tweak to the rules, and should only be adopted if you think that the variation of results in the cohesion test between a 1 and a 6 are too great and too random. In the rules as written there is no direct correlation between the number of “hits” inflicted by rolling 6’s and double 5’s and the number of permanent losses suffered as a result of the cohesion test. This means that you could get a single long distance hit from shooting and the target unit could roll a 6 on it’s cohesion roll and possibly be totally destroyed or at least very heavily damaged. As such we “Cap” the amount of damage that can be done.

For shooting the amount of permanent damage inflicted is capped at no more than the number of shooting hits that were inflicted.

For melee the amount of permanent damage inflicted is capped at no more than one more than the number of melee hits that were inflicted.

As such this does not have much effect if the target unit takes a large number of hits in shooting or melee, if it rolls badly in the cohesion test it may well suffer badly. What it avoids though is the possibility (that we found happened all too often) of a unit shooting from a distance inflicting just one hit and then the defending unit rolling a 6 for their cohesion test and being effectively removed as a viable combat unit from just the one hit.

These rules are fun, because of the way the combat mechanism works, everyone has a chance in a fight, though more powerful units certainly have an advantage. They can be chaotic and a few good or bad cohesion tests can swing a battle drastically one way or the other.

Do you want your game to be fun with a reasonable amount of chance in the results? If so you may well like these rules.
Are you a competition gamer who likes to work out killer tactics and a killer match up of units so that you know you are going to win before the other guy even moves? Some people on the forums think these rules work for tournaments, but I am not convinced they will ever be the rules of choice for serious competition gamers.
Are you the very clinical FoG type player who likes to look at the units matched up against each other in a very rock/scissors/paper way and quietly know that unit A,B and C are going to win whilst D and E will lose and F is questionable? Again I think you will find the rules just a little chaotic, I actually suggest you try them, but use our house rule nbr 3 to reduce the chaos element

I do not know if I have given a fair review of the rules, I have tried to. I have tried to point out those areas that I am perhaps not too enamoured of, but I really must stress that overall these rules are the favourite ancient wargames rules for my friends and I.

My favourite ancients game is command and colors ancients boardgame. If you love CCA but want to play with your miniatures then I would seriously consider these rules.
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Raul Catalano
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Good work Andy !

I have just a little experience with Impetus but I agree with almost all your comments. This is really a quick, easy and fun system to play with a reasonable number of miniatures in 2 hours or less.
I think your house rules are really interesting: number 1 should have been part of the official rules, and I am looking forward to try number 2 to see how it works, but I fear the use of your second house rules could reduce the need of multiple movements, that is such a good part of the risky and thrilling choices you have.

I personally don't like very much the basing standard proposed, but this is probably more an habit quirk than a true issue.
The main problem I have with Impetus is the use of the all-inclusive VBU: I find this mechanic quick and easy to use, but in the end just too "abstract": a simple number countdown with little evidence on the board or on unit performance.
The end result probably is not much different from what you get using a more detailed system (like Field of Glory, with its realistic downgrade of moral, human losses and fighting will), but to me the "feeling" is not the same ...
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John Di Ponio
United States
Lake Orion
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Thanks for the GREAT review!!! The more I read about this system the more I like it. I downloaded the basic ruleset but will be purchasing the spiral rules to one, support the creator and 2 have a nice, thick set of rules to have on the table. Thanks for all your work on the review. The combat interest me a ton and the moving away from IGOYOUGO rule is GREAT!

UPDATE: I have been able to aquire a copy and get a game up and running and it proves to be really fun! Not sure on a decision on unit scale....stuck between 15mm and 28MM. Will have to make my decision before plunging into a full army purchase.
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f s
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With the new plastic figure surge, 28mm can be the same price or even cheaper than 15mm.
If storage room is a factor you want to be aware of, or if you plan to ever move, I would very much recommend 15mm and possibly even using slightly shallower bases for cavalry. Impetus basing looks great, but storage really is a pain. Quite big.
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Wulf Corbett
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I use 10mm with the 'recommended' (6cm width bases) - almost everyone else who plays with 10mm seems to use the alternative 8cm wide bases intended for 15mm!

The main storage problem I have is my fondness for pike & spear armies... The Macedonians need a lot of headroom! It has the huge advantage of a complete (300-350 point) army for under £30 - often more like £20!
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