Tally Ho!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Sword and Spear Ancients - our first game

This week we tested a new set of ancients rules - Sword and Spear by Mark Lewis. This is part of the on-going quest to find a set that  is suitable for club nights. Since you should define your terms for me Suitable is:
  • Plausible outcomes where reasonable tactics are rewarded.
  • Simple and fun with limited scope for arguments (we're gamers so NONE = impossible!)
  • Good for multiple players per side with everyone involved most of the time.
  • Visually attractive.
  • Fast enough to resolve a decent sized game in 3 hours.
  • Not needing rebasing.

The Rules

The core of the rules is the activation system, which has something in common with Bolt Action. One dice is placed in a bag for each unit, different colours for each side. Seven dice at a time are drawn, rolled, and used to activate units. Units have an activation score and meeting or exceeding the score allows different actions. You can place multiple dice against a unit to increase combat power, movement, or morale. You can also use dice to counter enemy actions.  The turn is over when all the dice have been used.

So an interesting twist on "friction command" with less randomness than games like Lion Rampant as you should always move a good proportion of your army each turn. The plus is that it forces you to make choices all the time. The fact each mini-turn has a mix of both sides dice means you are involved throughout and there is some subtlety in use of your dice.

The down-side is its "friction command" at the end of the day. So if you don't like that, find it gamey, or want to have full control of your troops then it will not appeal to you.

The Game  

As we had the figures available from our recent Lion Rampant games we decided to pit our Early Crusaders verses Turks. We played with 450 point armies on an 8'*4' table with a couple of players a side. Since it was a practice game we just lined-up with infantry in the centre and mounted on the wings

The Crusader right - lots of doughty spearmen and crossbows

The Crusader left - Teutonic Knights subbing as Brother knights 

Turkish right - the elite cavalry 

Turkish left - the average / poor stuff

Turkish infantry - not much expected from them ;-) 
Due to the points difference the Turks had 18 dice to the Crusaders 12. The Crusaders also had quite a few units (spearmen and crossbows) who looked like they would do better on the defensive. So the Turks attacked and the infidels wisely sat back.   
Turks advance on their left
The one exception was that the Brother Knights pushed forward in search of prey. In S&S they are "Impact" troops which makes them deadly if they charge. Use of the initiative dice meant that one unit was charged and flanked - bad news for them. The other though as able to get up a head of steam an smashed two units of Turks.

Brother Knights rumble into action
 On their left however the Turks saw-off some mounted sergeants and flanked the enemy position.

Turks do well on the left
At this point the Turks noticed they had some potent "Impact" infantry lurking at the back and so pushed forward with the centre. By now most units were committed and it was about careful use of the dice to try and win some victories.  
A general melee ensues!
By finishing time the Turks had reached a soft army break-point (1/3 points lost) but the Crusaders were not far behind. Another 30mins and we'd have seen a result.

The Verdict

An interesting set of rules that did force you to constantly make choices and keep both sides engaged throughout as you had to counter enemy activation dice placement. The attraction is the friction command system, so if you don't like that approach, then Sword and Spear will likely not appeal.

We've decided to play a second game with the same armies so we can focus on the tactics not learning the game / armies.

So how does it do against my checklist?

  • Plausible outcomes  - TBD after a further game
  • Simple and fun - YES
  • Good for multiple  - YES
  • Visually attractive.- YES
  • Fast enough to resolve a decent sized game - TBD.
  • Not needing rebasing - YES


    1. Its a game that struggleswith any concept that The Muslim cavalry can in any way defeat knights. the rules governing what you could move were highly artificial and nothing to do with any rationale that might appear in warfare. We might as well have abandoned the figures and just thrown dice because that was all that it was about. A mos disappointing set.

    2. I think the central point, acknowledged by the author, is the game is about marshalling your "Dice resources", which in some way abstracts C&C, morale etc. Danger is you are nt really thinking tactics its all about dice allocation. It was the same worry I had with DBX games - it was just about engineering the artificial position / advantageous geometry that suited your troops not really realistic tactics.

      Perhaps I need to add - troops individual characteristics and cunning manoeuvring matter!