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Subject: 09:00 PM A pirate story... rss

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bertrand d
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09:00 PM A pirate story, a glass of water and my sons are at last in bed. I clean up the kitchen table, and open the Lost Battles box. A quick look at the 35 Ancient battles’ descriptions and I chose the hoplite encounter of first Mantinea (418 BC during the Peloponnesian War). Rules were learnt in just a couple of hours the previous evening, so I was happy to have the player’s help in hand.

09:30 PM
The 4*5 battle specific map tiles are set, hoplites counters have been un-punched and installed on their historical location, and player’s aid and a box for dice are handily placed. One recognizes immediately the elite units on both sides, the King Agis has deployed his 3,500 elite Spartan hoplites on the right, and the Argive have done the same with the “Thousand” elite body on their own right.
Mantinea is simple as apart from three units (two of cavalry and one non-hoplite heavy infantry), the only class of fighter present is the Greek hoplite. So few rules to bother about. Also there is only one uninspired leader, the King of Sparta Agis and its value is low, so a very manageable game scenario.
The starting command dice clearly favor Argos. With a 6, they manage express move most of their right wing. Even with the presence of Agis, a die roll of 2 gives a much slower Spartan initial move. The Argive hoplites take the first onslaught (2 of their hoplites become "spent")

09:45 PM
Time for hoplite assault. Argive right with the veterans is inefficient. But a miracle again in the center, Spartan veterans suffer 4 units spent (even if two losses are shared with the attacker) The Athenian cavalry tries to sneak into the back of Sparta. The Spartan response is poor, even if their right is now in place against the rear left of the Argive, the center acting as a pivot.

10:00 PM Sciritae and helot hoplites of Spartan left are wiped out, the Argive right has completed first half of its job. What will the center accomplish against the Spartan veterans’ assault? They resist! Only two exhausted hoplites survive but they keep position. The rear left Argive units run away. And is it Spartan treachery or just Brasidas, a new Spartan hoplite unit double-moves from the rear center to confront the Argive right flank.

10:20 PM The remaining troublemakers are eliminated, the Argive center has now fled, the hoplites of Brasidas are cut into pieces. Spartan right wheels towards remaining Argive units. The veterans’ morale on both sides has not yet been impacted by initial slaughter.

10:40 PM The two sides prepare the set for the final push. The Argives have the advantage of having more troops in good shape, but are taken from the side. Also as their key area is now occupied, one single additional unit destroyed will lead to defeat. Elsewhere, a Spartan hoplite successfully defends the key area against the Athenian cavalry.

11:00 PM
The time for decision has come! Argos doubles the depth of its hoplites to give them more power. They manage to spend the last two hoplites from Sparta, but suffer heavy losses themselves, due to flank attacks! Their lines remain in place. Sparta cannot shatter a single enemy unit, so no rout test is triggered!
This is the last chance for Argos. Ares is with them: a command die of 5 provides lots of additional battle bonus. An Elite Argive kills a first Spartan unit but the others do not run away! A second elite Argive makes a second victim, but the veterans again do not rout! The third elite has lost heart and scores no hit. Then ordinary Argive hoplite citizens roll a miracle "12", meaning two losses! Agis tries to rally but misses as he did for all other compulsory tests. And here is the Spartan moral test: "2"! 1+1 (veteran) +0 (no HI bonus for hoplite battles)-2 (eight units destroyed)-1 (reduced units)= 0. As other units were destroyed in this area, it is sufficient; Agis flees with the last veterans and the Spartan cavalry.
Sparta has 5 non elite hoplites left, so the fight can continue. The non-elite Argive hoplites flee, but with three elite hoplites and Athenian cavalry battle does not end yet!
Argos can only turn around before a last loss forces retreat.

11:25 PM As a conclusion, Sparta controls the battlefield, but the losses are unbearable. The Spartan reputation for invincibility is completely destroyed. MAJOR VICTORY FOR ARGOS.

11:30 PM All game counters are punched back, the tiles and the book are back in their box. The kitchen table is empty again and I can set cups and bowls for the kids’ breakfast.
Midnight, I am back in bed to dream about hoplites and have enough sleep for a tough working day tomorrow. And of course ready to play another Ancient battle, against a human opponent next time.


One may have understood what I like in Lost Battle.

It is a quick game with simple rules, suited for both solitaire and player versus player, enabling a good simulation of historical Ancient battles as well as a fun challenge.
In addition, it is also an easy learning tool about military in the 5 last centuries before Jesus-Christ, with the historical outcome always being the more likely. A handicap system gives a chance in game victory points to the historical losing side and compels the historical winner to do better.

At last, it has a lot of chrome with nice game counters, presence of elephants, hoplites, legions, chariots, beautiful and thick map tiles for a large potential of playing battlegrounds and a single rule for battles that span from Rameses II to Julius Caesar!

With all these quality, I was surprised about so many negative reactions from Ancient battle wargamers, especially those comparing Lost Battles to systems like the Great Battle of History. Being myself a long time player of SPQR or the Great Battles of Alexander, it sounded very strange to compare both systems. Let’s answer some questions to wipe out common misunderstanding.


What is the combat level of Lost Battles?

It is definitively GRAND TACTICAL! Therefore not the same level of tactical simulation as Great Battles of History.

Do not expect to see javeliners send rampaging elephants against their own lines, do not expect to see archers fire arrows so thick as to obscure the sky, do not expect to see legions structure their lines with velites, hastati, principes and triarii, do not even expect to manage nice lines of hoplites. If pictures of Lost Battles shown on wargame website or magazines may you think so, it is just the way the players have set up the beautiful counters inside the Lost Battles tiles. LB does not simulate the men to men fight details.

Similarly, the reconstruction of the historical battlefield map remains very generic. Lost battles abstracts the battlefield to a chessboard type of map showing only the main ground features, abstracts the armies to about 20 unit groups, squeezes all battles into the same board size by a distance and unit size ratio modifier, abstracts the spears and arrows confrontations to some combat bonus, the battle losses to one single depletion capacity before destruction, the flank and rear attacks to the rough position of all units in the tile.


So what does Lost Battles simulate?

I would say the management of the battle line in Ancient times, at a higher army commander level. The most specific features of this system are command and morale.

Command is linked to the overall quality of your troops in the field at a given time of battle. Presence of lot of veteran units or good leaders will give you an edge in command. But there are usually not enough command points to move the whole army together. It leads to choices about which part of the battlefield is given priority. It is also easier to move whole parts of the battle line (simulated by all troops in a given tile) rather than individual units. But the players that can get enough command points to double or treble move their units individually can create local superiority.

Morale simulates the moment when the commander starts to lose control of its units. Morale is especially about how many units can be shattered before the neighboring units decide to flee. And as in history, Lost Battles usually ends by one side leaving the field due to morale effect. Its unique feature is that morale is checked as well by individual units (levy spent units being more at risk than fresh veterans) as by battle areas (the closer a unit is to the battle event, the more likely it will be influenced by negative results) An entire wing of the battle line may therefore rout without ending the battle, which is very close to historical accounts. Which units and how many you concentrate on a given part of the battlefield is one of the most important driver of the game. Effectively morale will start to be checked when attrition has depleted all units in a tile and units start to be shattered. Where, when and with which additional bonus to attack becomes therefore another decisive commander action.

Historical battle leaders and commanders influence both command and morale. But except for the best of them (Hannibal, Alexander or Caesar), they will have only limited influence on the overall battle. Note that losing an excellent leader on the battlefield is also a sure morale killer for an army.


What remains specific to Ancient Battle tactics?

1. First all the major units of Ancient armies are represented: Light Cavalry, Heavy Cavalry, Cataphracts, Chariots, Indian and African elephants, Light infantry, Greek Hoplites, Persian Archers, Macedonian Phalanx, Roman Legions and a generic Heavy Infantry for other nations.
A unit has three characteristics: its type, its quality/training level and its combat frontage size. To make it simple, any combat unit has the same base value as another, meaning the ability to move or attack once per turn, but its type, frontage size and training level will influence both move and combat and show its historical ability.
Each unit type has its own movement capacity, specific bonus or drawbacks, a specific capacity to hit another combat unit type. The difference are so tiny on the chart (dice roll +1/-1 under some condition) that troops may look plain vanilla but these difference on a 2d6 die roll have a big impact and the limited special rules likely create huge difference in combat style between units. The visual effect of soldier types differentiated by reproduction of ancient paintings is one of the major elements of the Lost Battle chrome.
The quality/training of veterans give them more attack power (due to reduced frontage), more overall command points and standing power in the battlefield. They also cost high in victory points. On the other side, levy units are very brittle and risk being shattered at first contact.
The frontage gives the overall capacity of attack from a given tile. Very visual in Lost Battles, you see immediately that more heavy infantry veterans may attack in a given encounter than widely deployed cavalry units.
The relative size of a unit’s manpower is also on the counter, represented by the number of soldiers portrayed, but as no real effect on combat. It reminds you that an elite heavy infantry unit (2 men in the picture) simulates four times less people than a levy unit (8 men) in Lost Battles.

2. The lead unit choice within a tile gives another insight in Ancient Battle tactics. Battles always oppose lead units. So it is important to choose what type of unit you want to confront. There are also some specific advantages like keeping light infantry or elephants in front of heavy infantry early in battle. In addition, the attack from this lead unit always gets the most bonus, simulating the impact of the initial onslaught. The disadvantage is that the lead unit suffers the first hit. So it is important to choose this unit carefully.

3. At last the historical research of each battles and battlefield are well explained with their relation to the simulation. They give good insight in the tactics developed during the battle. Best read them before starting to play.


Where do you start ?

Have a quick read on the rulebook or the appendix I of the Lost Battle book. Make sure to have the player’s aid next to you and start with simple battles. The player aid is necessary not to forget a bonus in initial battles but the repetitive mechanics are quickly in one’s mind.
Good start choice are small battles like Marathon or First Mantinea with limited number of troop types, limited ability of leaders or no leaders at all and a straightforward frontal encounter.
Then try more complex battles with flank attacks by cavalry, like First Chaeronea or even intervention of inspired leaders like Hannibal at Cannae.
At last go to battles with special rules like surprise, fatigue, bad weather, as for instance the Sabis.

Battles always start with deployment of the army, the most important move in an Ancient Battle. But for simplicity and historicity, the historical start position is proposed and certainly preferred in solitaire game or early plays with the system. It will give a good option for re-playability at the loss of some historicity.
Except moving straight ahead, it is very difficult to change position in the battle line once initial set up is done. Only the cavalry units on the aisle, light infantry or veteran legionnaires can change deployment easily, but these small moves often make the difference between loss and victory. So game play will remain simple with limited but always important initiatives from the player.


Potential disappointments and a lot of enjoyment

Definitively an expensive DELUXE game (100 Euros including postal charges from UK to France), with limited production (first edition has been sold out in 3 months), a little too greenish aspect of the battleground tiles and units, counters much smaller than what I originally expected, a lot of abstraction, not recommended for pure tactical ancient gamers, Lost Battles will nonetheless become the game I will play the most in coming year!

Easy to learn, easy to set up, with generic game rules and individual scenarios play-tested for more than 10 years (which game can claim that?), a 300-page book explaining the design process of the historical battle simulation, it gives a unique opportunity to play and study the most famous battles of Ancient World in less than 3 hours.
I have already completely revisited the evolution of the Greek hoplites’ world from Marathon to their downfall against Macedonia at Chaeronea, which spans over 11 battles. My next steps will be to follow Alexander and Hannibal over their victories and eventual downfall.

And of course if one wants to play Lost Battles only with the book and some figurines, that is the original construction of the simulation. But figs are not my cup of tea.

Cheers Mr Sabin.
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Matt Jolly
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Lugbar,

Nice review / AAR and an interesting take on the game.

Have a thumb and GG!

Cheers,

Matt
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Roger Hobden
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I agree completely with the review.

This game should win a "wargame of the year" award.
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Andrew Hobley
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I am a fan anyway (have been since I brought the book and downloaded the components from Prof Sabin's part of Kings College website), but this is an excellent review, picks out the key points of what the games does and what it does not try to do.
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Alexandros Boucharelis
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thanks for your review, it gives me courage to put it on the table and start my own battles.
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Steve Bishop
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Lytham St. Annes
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A super concise review that still allows enough detail to bring out the major points of the system. Must get this back on the table, well done.
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Davide Banchini
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Quote:
11:30 PM All game counters are punched back, the tiles and the book are back in their box. The kitchen table is empty again and I can set cups and bowls for the kids’ breakfast.
Midnight, I am back in bed to dream about hoplites and have enough sleep for a tough working day tomorrow. And of course ready to play another Ancient battle, against a human opponent next time.


I see soooo much myself in those words.

Merci beaucoup for this review and for sharing your point of view.
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