Phalanx

Phalanx

 My never ending quest for simple grid based Ancients games continues, largely with an eye to remote play, so no Command and Colours Ancients I’m afraid. Back in the dim and distant past before Legion, Strategos and Lost Battles, Phil Sabin wrote a simple diceless set of Ancients rules called ‚Phalanx‘, a mashup of DBA and Chess.

It was originally published in The Slingshot in early 1993, and it also appeared in the Lost Battles Yahoogroup, but sadly the files were lost in horror of the migration to groups.io. 

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the rules are now impossible to find unless you want to wade through very old copies of The Slingshot. 

I was aided by the kindness of a fellow gamer, who sent me an electronic version he had garnered many years ago (many thanks Chris).

Hooray, we can finally get going. The board is a smaller version of that found in Legion, 10 hexes x 9 , but tapering towards each side so it is like a big hexagon.
The game comes with over 30 historical scenarios, this one is Heraclea iirc. Each side has a camp on its baseline, the Roman one is nearest the camera and Pyrrhus is on the far side. Terrain features are located in relation to one of the six hex vertices, in this case there is a river over in the top left.

Armies are all abstracted into ten unit armies, this concept is developed a bit in later iterations of the Legion/Strategos/LB cycle. I’ve adopted the same convention as LB, so average units have two elements (and I’d normally use 3 or 4 for levies and 1 for Veterans as they all generate the same combat power requiring more of fewer men to do so). 
The Romans here have six Heavy Infantry (Legionaries), two heavy cavalry, two light infantry (Velites) and a General. I gave the Legionaries appropriate proportions of Hastati, Princeps and Triarii, an advantage of using multiple DBA elements per unit. The General is with one of the infantry units.

Pyrrhus. His army has five Heavy Infantry (they aren’t classed as Phalangites in this scenario so I just used hoplites), two light infantry, two heavy cavalry and an Elephant. Pyrrhus accompanies one of the cavalry.

Unlike DBA, the armies have to deploy from the their camps. I really, really like this, and it is similar to the deployment phase in Strategos. Each army can activate up to three groups of adjacent elements per turn, two if they have lost their General. This isn’t an issue at first, but as fighting starts, command can be a problem. Infantry move 1, cavalry 2, but with various restrictions on wheeling etc. Lights and elephants can double time on odd numbered moves, giving them a slight move advantage over heavy infantry. 
It will take a couple of turns for both sides to deploy, and obviously it pays to keep an eye on the eventual matchups of troop types. As a first tryout I got each side to favour their right flanks, but generally with heavy infantry in the middle, and cavalry on the flanks.

The Romans have got their Velites and Cavalry two hexes out of camp, and four Legionary units. Unit facing is towards a hex vertex, with interesting ramifications. Heavy types are very restricted in their movement and facing options – basically they can change facing at the end of their move.

Pyrrhus has also got his cavalry and light troops out. The Elephant takes advantage of its turn 1 double time as well. Pyrrhus has some sort of cunning plan based on using the river to shield the right flank of his combined cavalry/elephant force. Or something.

The Romans shake out into some sort of line. It will actually be quite hard to get all the Legionaries in the front rank, but at the moment they are all still a single activation group.

Pyrrhus also has everyone out now. All units have to leave camp in the first three turns. The Greeks have put both light troops on their left flank. The hoplites are looking a bit raggedy as they form up. 

The Romans are starting to look a bit scary now, five Legionaries in line, flanked by Velites and cavalry on each flank. The Triarii in are reserve. 
Combat is based on numbers of opposing units attacking, infantry and elephants are routed by three enemy, other types by two. The required number to rout the enemy is modified by troop type, terrain and situation eg Light Troops are penalised if attacked by heavies. In the original game combat is entirely diceless, but in a supplement it is suggested rolling a ‚fortunes of war‘ D6. 1 adds one to the defender, 6 adds one to the attacker.
This essentially means that the matchups are critical, and you really, really need to be able to gang up on enemy units, ideally via outflanking them. 

Pyrrhus moves his right into attacking range of the Roman Velites and cavalry. The Greek cavalry get a +1 due to the General, so will automatically beat the Roman cavalry if they can make contact. Ouch!

Over on the left, the Greek cavalry get stuck in, supported by lights. They can opt to attack either unit in their front facing hexes, and gang up on the Velites. Normally 2:1 would fail against infantry, but the heavy cavalry get a bonus against light troops. 

Then throw a 6 in combat, so now it is 4:1 and the Romans leg it. An Army is defeated when it has four elements routed AND the enemy has lost fewer elements. All a bit DBA. One up to the Greeks.

Having seen the fate of their pals, the Romans cavalry and light troops on the left run away from Pyrrhus. Instead they push up the Legionaries, who are pretty tough in frontal combat, especially against cavalry etc. The designers notes in the rules suggest that a fair amount of this sort of threatening and parrying will go on in the game.

Over on the Roman right the Greek cavalry advanced into the vacant hex after combat, supported by their light troops.

The Romans promptly counterattacked with the Legionaries, led by the General and supported by the cavalry. They routed both the Greek cavalry and one of their light troops! I can’t quite recall how the matchups went, but it was scary stuff. There is now an isolated Greek light element on its own, which will need an extra command point to activate.

The Greeks refuse their left flank, while Pyrrhus and the elephants press forward on the right. The Elephants could only move 1 this turn.

The Romans in turn counterattack. Elephants are vulnerable to light troops, and the Velites get stuck in, supported by the Legionaries.

The Romans completely outmatch the isolated Greek light troops.

And rout them. The Hoplites are somewhat stuck in Roman zones of control. The ZOC rules need reading a couple of times to figure them out, but it is possible to pin enemy units frontally. Very handy when you are about to outflank them.

Over on the Roman left, Nellie succumbs to the Velites. When elephants rout, neither side can enter the hex for a turn. I assume this represents rampaging elephants, so I left the model in place with a yellow marker. This also prevents Pyrrhus riding across the front of the Legionaries and routing the Velites (cavalry+general+attacking lights = 3:1). 
The Romans have routed three units  now.

I just can’t get enough Hoplites into contact in one place to rout a Legionary unit. The Romans however put two Legionaries and their General against a Hoplite, rout it and win the game.
Having got an idea how it hangs together, I set the scenario up again.

The Greeks went for a balanced deployment this time, lights and cavalry on each flank, Elephants in the middle. Pyrrhus took the left flank cavalry.

They extended their line so that one cavalry was actually in the river. I have a cunning plan. The Romans are a similar deployment to before but have their General in the centre this time.

The Roman right looks a bit overextended. There is a unit of Princeps on their way to support the cavalry, but most of their strength is centre and left.

The Greeks spend another turn sorting their line out. The Greek cavalry even crosses the river.

The Romans push up behind the river. Very cunning, there are penalties attacking across a river, so the Greeks are bottled up now. Unfortunately they slightly miscalculated movement distances on their right, and they end up in range of Pyrrhus.

Who duly charges and routs the Roman cavalry, needing anything but a ‚1‘. The lone Legionary unit can’t do much against them.

The Romans move up to smash the Greek centre, relying on their General.

The Hoplites are routed and the Velites move next to the Elephants, hoping to destroy them next turn. 

Meanwhile Pyrrhus envelops the isolated Legionaries.

It is a right mess around the river. The river penalties essentially prevent anyone attacking anyone else. There was something in the rules about an unmodified 4:1 being an automatic victory? I need to re read that bit and get my head around it. I do find Prof Sabins presentation style a bit challenging sometimes. 
The Greeks counterattack and destroy the Velites, but in turn the Romans attack back and destroy another Hoplite unit.

Pyrrhus gets ready to roll up the Roman line.

The Elephants change direction and crush another Legionary under their feet! The Elephants really have been decisive in this battle. 

The Elephants finally succumb to a concentric attack and rampage before routing.
The Greeks come back again though, and rout a fourth Roman unit.

Game end. Three Greek to Four Roman. So a pyrrhic victory for Pyrrhus. 
I probably need to solo play a couple more games to get the hang of it, but so far it is all looking very promising. It suffers a bit from the usual Sabinisms – a subset of Barkerese, but on the whole the intent is clear and it is possible to draw a line from the concepts here to his later iterations of Ancients rules.
The huge plus for me is a manageable board size, which will fit nicely into my laptop camera, and a whole bunch of ready done scenarios. I’m not convinced how well it will translate into multi-player, it is certainly a battle of wits, but certainly worth a go. My first thought is to make the combat system a bit more dice heavy, and have some sort of hit tracking on the units ie a version of the CnC system. But I’m liking the unit density and movement system here. Even the (very) simple command system works – I found in the second game that as units became more scattered, I ran out of activations to move everything.  Very pleased to have finally tracked this down.

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Autor: Martin Rapier / The Games We Play

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