Saturday, 21 September 2013

Review & AAR: 'An Age of Sword & Arrow' Ancients Rules

I came across these rules via a post on Anatoli's blog. They had some interesting sounding mechanisms so I downloaded the free PDF and had a closer look. They seemed worthy of further investigation and I had a look at the supplied army lists to see what I could field. I decided to have two Norman armies fighting as these were the only forces I could fit to armies I already owned.

I will no doubt get some things wrong or miss things so take what I say in that light. The first thing that struck me was the difference in the respective points cost of the troop types. The Milites (heavy cavalry) with heavy armour cost 80pts per base while a base of close order crossbowmen only cost 12pts. So one base of Milites costs more than six bases of Crossbows, that seems like a big difference. I was interested in how this would turn out in a game. I got out my 15mm Italian Wars army to represent the Normans and proceeded to spilt it up into two forces with nearly equal points. The game does not recommend any particular points total for games so I just went with what I could field. Which was as follows:

Army A
1 x General, Leadership 3, Strategy 1 - 100pts
12 x Milites, Heavy Armour, Lance, Stirrups - 960pts
4 x Light Infantry, Skirmishers, Insignificant, Bow - 52pts
Total 1112pts

Army B
1x General, Leadership 3, Strategy 1 - 100pts
6 x Milites, Heavy Armour, Lance, Stirrups - 480pts
6 x Auxiliary Cavalry, Medium Armour, Javelin, Spear, Stirrups - 282pts
12 x Archers, Crossbow - 144pts
8 x Light Infantry, Skirmishers, Insignificant, Bow - 104pts
Total 1110pts

So two very different forces from the same army list. With the armies sorted I set up a battlefield with a small wood on each flank. I was just looking for a simple battle to try out the mechanisms so there was no need for anything more complicated.

Set up was a bit puzzling. There's no indication of how far in you can set up or how to lay out terrain. So I just put them where it felt right. Unit sizes are a bit strange too, the Milites and Aux Cavalry have to be 3 or 4 bases, the skirmishers 2-3 bases but spear armed infantry can be 3-8 bases. Army A I set out as in the above photo. Army B I had to think about for a bit. In the end I decided to have the skirmishers and Aux Cav out in front to harass the Milites in the hope that their fresher Milites would have the advantage especially if the crossbows could do some damage as well. As can be seen below.

So with that done it was time to start the game. Again there's no indication of how to choose who goes first so I just rolled a die (I should note here that this is a D10 game) Army B won and went first. The turn sequence is Rally, Movement, Shooting, Assault, Combat. As this was the first turn there was nothing to do in the Rally phase so I moved on to the Movement phase. I should note here that each phase has a number of sub-phases that break down what you can/have to do in each phase.

I moved the skirmishers forward to shoot at the Milites and moved the Aux Cav up to be in a position to harass the Milites next turn. Infantry can move 6" or run for 10" Cavalry can move 10" or run 16" (there is a typo in the rules with two different March move distances for cavalry, I went with 10" as it seemed right) but running adds a point of Fatigue which hinders a unit (more on this later).

Position after the first move

Next up was shooting. All the skirmishers were in range and had LoS so no problems there. I fired 2 bases at each of the flank Milites units and 4 at the center unit. The skirmishers have a skill of 6 but moved so suffer a -1 meaning they need 5 or less on a D10 to hit. They are armed with bows which have a rate of fire of 2 meaning that each stand gets to roll 2 D10. Some abysmal die rolling meant that only 2 hits were scored from 16 dice! Both of these were on the center unit which now has to try and save.
All units have a base 'save' of 5 modified by things like armour. The Milites have heavy armour which gives them a +2 to save making it a 7, ranged attacks also add a +1 making it an 8. So they now have to roll 8 or less on 2 dice or 2 bases will be removed. The poor dice rolling continues and a 10 means a base is removed from the center unit.
That completes the shooting for Army B so now Army A gets to shoot. All shooting is deemed to be simultaneous so any bases removed this phase would still get to shoot back. As the Milites don't have ranged weapons this doesn't apply. Army A's skirmishers are out of range so the shooting phase ends.

Ammunition is a factor in this game with the skirmishers having 3 Ammunition. This is now reduced to 2 as they fired. Ammunition can be replenished by 2 if the unit spends a turn 'Resting', this also removes 2 'Fatigue' if any has been accrued.

The next phase is 'Assault'. If you didn't run or shoot and you have an enemy in range you can assault. So this means its possible for a unit can move twice in a turn. For example a mounted unit can march 10" in the movement phase and then charge 6" in the assault phase. The next bit is a bit different as there are two types of assault, Charging and Harassment. Charging is what it sounds like but if the unit has the Harassment skill they can remain stationary and harass the enemy (presumably with whatever ranged weapons they have). Carrying out an harassment assault does give the unit 1 Fatigue though but it inflicts Fatigue equal to the Harassment skill on the target unit. As Army B had no one in assault range the phase ended as did their turn.

There was nothing for Army A to do in the Rally phase so onto the movement phase. I moved everything forward a normal move. I thought about Running the skirmishers deeper into the woods but decided against it.

So on to the Shooting phase. I shot 1 base from each of the skirmisher units at the Aux Cav needing 5's to hit and got 2 hits. The Aux Cav have the standard save of 5, +1 for medium armour, +1 for a ranged attack giving a save of 7. Both hits were saved. Army B now gets to shoot back.
This is where things got complicated. The skirmishers shooting is the same as last time, except they haven't moved. But Army B's Crossbowmen are also now in range. As far as I can tell you are allowed to shoot over intervening units as long as the target is in range and arc of fire. The rules just say that if there is no LoS the target is harder to hit. I think this is just wrong. It might be ok for bows that could arc over intervening troops but crossbows and gunpowder weapons have flat trajectories which would mean hitting the intervening unit. Plus the penalty is only a -1 to hit. So on with the expected carnage. The skirmishers kill 4 stands of the Milites, the Crossbowmen only have a RoF of 1 but they have AP2 nullifying the Milites +2 from their heavy armour and kill 3 more stands. That's now 8 stands gone from the original 12. I called the game at this point as there was no point continuing.

I may have done something wrong here but I can't see what it could be. There's a lot to like about these rules including a ton of stuff I didn't get to mention. The Harassment/Fatigue mechanism looks great. You can spend points to give your General some flavour like in the Total War series with attributes like 'Butcher' for 75pts which makes enemy units suffer -1 morale. There are special moves like 'Feigned Withdrawal' and special attributes for your units. But I'm not convinced about the points values or some of the basic mechanics. It has a nice 'Hobby' section for beginners but doesn't have an index or QRS (which it really needs). There's also nothing about ranks, for example it doesn't seem like you get any benefit for having any ranks beyond the first for close combat figures, so no point to pike blocks. Also information on things like combat is spread over a number of sections meaning you have to flick back through various pages to hunt down the information you need.

I really wanted to like these rules as they have a lot of cool features, they're worth downloading but I'm going to stick to Impetus for now.


  1. Thanks for the review I have been convinced and will stick with Hail Caesar

  2. Hey Ferb,
    This is Tyler, the main designer for ASA. Thanks for the quick overview of the game and partial play through. I will be the first to admit that the game is very far from the "totally complete" phase. In fact, it really is still in the initial playtesting phase as there is a lot that needs to be revised, clarified, and adjusted for balance. As a student (aka, not a paid game designer) I really am relying on people within the community to help with feedback so we can craft a great game. Your comments here are exactly what I am looking for and I would be very interested in hearing more, both from you and from anyone else in the gaming community.
    Please feel free to contact me at

    In answer to your specific questions brought up here:
    * In terms of setup, that is determined by the scenario you are playing. The current list of scenarios are all available in a PDF document in the rules section of the website.
    * Point costs are very primitive for the time being. The formula that I used to derive them makes expensive units progressively over costed. We will move to correct this through additional playtesting.
    * Set-up and terrain are detailed within the book/scenario guide. Terrain is done by both players before the battle (before table edges are selected).
    * The scenarios indicate which player goes first
    * Yes, harassment represents shooting with ranged weapons but also limited attacks against formations that are not full out charges but cause disorder
    * Some weapons cannot shoot enemies that are outside of LoS, including crossbows and gunpowder weapons (except rockets).

    I apologize for any frustration you had trying to use the rulebook, especially with any typos. Unfortunately, a draft of the book had to be published very quickly, leading to a suboptimal product.

    However, despite any current drawbacks, I truly think the core design principles of this game are solid and surpass those of existing games covering this period. It may be a long process, but with some help I believe that ASA can be made into an awesome (and free) resource for the community.

    Thank you, once again, for reviewing the game. I hope, despite its current drawbacks, that you would be willing to try it out again and give me your advice.

    Kind regards,

    1. Thanks for your response. I really like a lot of your concepts and I think that these could be a great set of rules once the kinks are worked out.


You may also like:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...