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Sunday, 5 February 2012

In Praise of Warmaster Ancients

Back in the days when DBM was king, it was my preferred system for playing games with 15mm figures. That did not mean that I did not have my doubts about the system including the way that chance could have such a great effect not only on the ability to move but combats. The strength of DBM was that it was so universal, practically everywhere you went you could get a game of DBM against someone you had never met before. But the decision of both of the DBM rule designers to go their separate ways for future rules development almost gave us permission to explore other rule sets. So I, like others hunted around for another ruleset to satisfy our gaming urges. In the end – after trying several of the current rules – I settled on Warmaster Ancients, written by Rick Priestly and sold by Warhammer Historical. The rules are a modification of the Games Workshop fantasy rules and in common with their normal rules the first thing you need is loads of dice. Since Warmaster Ancients does not get a lot of mention in Slingshot, it seems worthwhile giving you a quick view of how it works and why I like it.
Movement is done by rolling dice and comparing the roll with the commanders leadership value. If you pass the test then the unit or group of units being ordered to move, can indeed move. If the commander fails a roll then that’s it, no more orders from them for the rest of the turn. If the overall army commander fails a roll then no more orders can be issued for that army for this turn. If a double six is rolled then as well as failing to give the order successfully, a Blunder has occurred and another die is rolled to see what unpredictable event has happened. The command roll is influenced by how far the commander is from the units he is trying to order and number of other factors like proximity to the enemy and casualties suffered. Units or groups of units can be given up to 3 successive orders in a turn, so units can move up to 90cm in a turn but each further order makes it harder to make a successful roll. Better leaders give a higher chance of success but nothing guarantees a successful roll, it is not uncommon to have units sitting there doing nothing as the enemy advance upon them but there is always the refuge of the Initiative order allowing units to make an automatic move when then enemy are within 20cm, instead of commanders attempting to give them orders. Initiative moves are inflexible but at least stop the horror of not being able to do anything if the enemy are close and your dice have been poor. Some people like movement controlled by dice rolls, I must admit I am not a fan but better commanders give you greater chance of getting your troops to go where you want them to be and the Initiative move gives you a last chance to do something even if the dice fail. Another plus for the Warmaster movement system is that you can get some really large moves that greatly add to the fluidity of the game.
Shooting – like combat – is extremely simple, roll a dice to hit and another die is rolled by the opposing player if the enemy unit has armour in an attempt to stop the hit from wounding the unit. Three wounds will normally remove a base from a unit and a unit normally has 3 bases. Wounds which have not removed a base are removed from units at the end of turn unless the unit is in combat. In other words they are lost. Shooting tends to drive the enemy back rather than inflict enough casualties to remove bases but also has a chance of causing Confusion in the target unit. Confusion means that the unit will not be able to receive orders in their own turn and is at reduced effectiveness in melee. But with sufficient missile troops, you can shoot a unit to death, especially if it has no save. In a siege game, I managed to destroy a section of wall and was preparing to advance through it, when my opponent used to the ineffectiveness of normal shooting deployed a unit in the gap created by the destroyed section. The concentrated fire of my siege artillery totally destroyed the unit in one round of – lucky – shooting, which was a surprise to both of us.
Combat is like shooting but with more dice rolled, each base of troops will have a number of attacks specified for its troop type. Normally it is a simple roll of 4 or more to hit but if the enemy counts as defended or fortified it will reduce this. Combat is simultaneous but chargers get a bonus for charging and reduce the number of dice that the enemy fight with, if they happen to attack them in the flank or rear. As with shooting, armour saves apply, so well armoured troops take less casualties in combat. There are two rounds of combat fought each turn and if you wipe out your opponents, you can advance into another enemy and fight two more rounds of combat that turn. As you can imagine combat tends to be decisive. Unarmoured units can be wiped out in one round of combat, even well armoured troops gradually take casualties and become ineffective even if you could mange to give them orders. The best way to attack is to hit an enemy in the flank which reduces their effectiveness and reduces your own losses. Frontal attacks with good troops can succeed but to truly work the enemy needs to be hit with multiple units, not isolated attacks.
Commanders principle role is to issue orders to units but they can add extra dice to a units attacks if they choose to join a unit. The penalty is that if the unit they are with is wiped out, they are lost as well. Normally commanders are invulnerable but if the enemy move through a commander, they force the commander to join the nearest friendly unit where of course they can be destroyed if you wipe the unit out. In fact killing the enemy army general is one of the methods to win the game.
Army lists are included in the main rules and there are two supplements specifically of army lists, ancients and medieval. The supplements include changes to the rules especially for the use of skirmishers which really make the game work. I am glad to say that skirmishers actually shoot in Warmaster Ancients, one of my beefs with DBM was that skirmishers ‘shooting’ was only done in combat. The rules are no longer in print but copies seem to be available online second hand. The amendments are also available online and I recommend using them.
The rules are simple but like with chess, the application of them, make the game. Luck is of course a factor but with many dice being rolled, one or two bad die rolls will not affect the game. I said I was looking to play games with my 15mm figures but Warmaster Ancients tend to be played with 6mm or 10mm figures. So I now have armies in both those scales to play locally, all based on the standard 40x20 mm base used by Warmaster. DBM used 40mm width elements and I am happy that I could use my 15mm figures for Warmaster if anyone was interested, without having to re-base them. Now we know the rules, our games last between one or two hours. I have some battle reports up on the CACK wargames club site under historical battles if you are interested.

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