Friday, 23 November 2018

L'Art de la Guerre

In my first wargaming career as an adult - from the late 70s to the early 90s - WRG Ancients was the game I played more than any other, and I progressed through various rule editions, scales and rebasing experiences. When I returned to wargaming sometime after 2000 I couldn't go back to the mental contortions of Barkerese and took up other periods and games like Crossfire.

Over the intervening years I played a few games of Ancients with various different rule sets including DBA, which I did enjoy,  but I didn’t commit to any of them. Just recently a couple of friends at my wargames club, Bernard and Chris, organised a game of L'Art de la Guerre in which two other players - James and myself - enjoyed minor roles. None of us had played the game before, and my only introduction had been looking at the rules for an hour earlier in the day.

The game featured Sassanids versus Byzantines. In order to speed things up a small amount of scenery was arbitrarily placed on the table, but otherwise I think we followed the proper procedures. The game is said to be playable to a conclusion in two-and-a-half hours. We managed four moves each which for a first game seemed reasonable.

It's early days but all four players were positive about the experience. The photos show the course of the game as far as it went.

View of the Sassanid army from the Sassanid side.

The Sassanid and Byzantine armies from the Byzantine side.

The armies skirmish on the left and in the centre.

My command gets stuck in with mixed results.

The Byzantine centre weakens, but my light cavalry catch the Sassanid left flank.

The left flank conflict is as yet indecisive. The Byzantine centre is partly eliminated. The Sassanid left flank is under pressure. The Sassanid centre is strong and unopposed but can it be brought to bear on the flanks?

ADLG is now strongly established so I'll just comment on a few aspects that struck me. The standard game is fought with very convenient sized armies in a reasonably convenient area. The army lists are clear and strike a good balance between simplicity and complexity. They are also realistic and avoid the obscure gimmicks that are a feature if other rule sets, and which competitive players latch onto if it brings them game advantages.

While DBA is a game of sudden outcomes in which units die or survive unscathed, ADLG units suffer cumulative damage before destruction. This introduces a significant element of attrition, and seems to invite the need for intervention by reserves. Once the troops are locked in combat there is otherwise not a great deal of use for Pips.

Of the Ancient games I've played in recent years - DBA, Impetus and Sword and Spear, ADLG seems to be the most promising for my tastes, so I've set about reorganising my 15mm Ancient and Medieval armies and will rebase and supplement them where necessary. It will be good to get these armies out of their long retirement.


  1. Interesting as I have Impetus and Sword & Spear waiting in the wings to demonstrate their suitability as 'go to' rules, though I don't think I have ever come across a criticism of ADLG.

  2. Impetus remains my ‘Rules of choice’ for my circa 1525 French-Italian Wars armies in the absence of anything else but I find the melee process too long-winded. I was also not impressed by a game in which some Ancient British chariots charged through skirmishers to defeat my Legionaries. This seemed gamey and unhistorical.

    Sword and Spear is a very smooth-running set of rules but arbitrarily allows you to hand out bonuses at unit level. I was left wondering what this was supposed to represent.

    I also bought FoG but it looked too like DBMM. I like the army list books, although the lists themselves look unnecessarily complex.

    DBA is a good game but too like chess.

    ADLG has been criticised for not having push-backs which means that it won’t model certain historical battles in which push-backs were a feature.

    None of them are perfect. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

  3. ADLG is on my bookshelf. You've inspired me to get it down again.

    I played Impetus for Italian Wars but lost interest when French Gendarmes broke a pike block at first contact with average dice. Didn't happen historically. Not ever. I did like the Big Bases and I've stuck with those.

    Personally I'm content (content not happy) with Big Base DBA. Lots of figures. Simple rules without being simple minded. Resolution in an hour. Okay, not great on simulation for certain periods/armies but you can't have everything. And don't get me started on the DBA troop types and army lists ... Hittite Pikemen, bah humbug.

    1. Hi Steven

      The big bases were/are probably the most innovative and appealing thing about Impetus. If you’re not playing in a competition I guess you could fiddle round with the factors. I like DBA and with your BBDBA you have the best of both worlds in comparison with Impetus.

      Locally DBA has had its supporters and detractors. Some feel that it is too universal and lacks period flavour, but I’m not sure how real those aspects are once you start deconstructing rules and exposing the mathematical matrices that lie beneath all of them.

      Conforming (and displacement of third parties) is another issue which draws criticism, though I think that squaring up is a pretty inevitable (and desirable) mechanic in a game where combat is essentially simplified to 1:1 base pairings.