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"Did "recoiling" actually happen in Ancient Battles?" Topic

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04 Mar 2019 11:30 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Changed title from "Did "recoiling" actually happened in Ancient Battles ?" to "Did "recoiling" actually happen in Ancient Battles?"Crossposted to Game Design board

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Napoleon 197421 Feb 2019 7:40 a.m. PST


I'm new in wargaming and I'm searching for a set of rules that would be the most "accurate" in simulating what I perceive to be the behavior of ancient and medieval armies in battle.

Let me explain. It is true that we don't know much about how the ancient battles actually were fought. But I believe there is a perception of reality that ancient battles were relatively static affairs of long coherent battle lines that crashed and had an attrition "contest". Then the battle lines would break in one or several points and the opponent would attempt to break in and out manouvre the enemy until someone would rout.

Until now I have read reviews and opinions here in this forum and elsewhere about several rule sets and I own the following: Sword and Spear, DBA, Hoplon, Field of Glory, Hail Ceasar, WAB and WAB2. All of them were a gift from a friend that did not have time to wargame anymore.

I believe HC, S&S and WAB and WAB2 are much fun to play, especially S&S but do not provide the kind of Simulation that I'm searching for. I may be wrong.

So the question is between DBX systems and derivatives and Field of Glory. FOG gives a static game like the one I described in the beginning of this post. On the other hand DBX provide a more challenging decision process through out the game.

The problem is that I cannot believe that a battle line was so easy to break like these systems suggest. Let'say the next pikes element of mine is recoiled. And I on the other hand also pikes recoil my enemy and have to follow up. This creates a huge hole in my battle line when in fact I won my enemy. How probable is that I would really follow up exposing my whole battle line in front of the enemy. Isn't it more probable that I would stay where I am in line with my fellow pikes?

Please try in your answers not to analyze what system is "best" for you, but instead help me to understand if recoiling is something that actually would happen in a battlefield in your opinion or not. And forgive me if my question is too novice, but this is what I am.

Thanks in advance !

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 7:54 a.m. PST

The DBx system was never meant to be a literal interpretation of what's happening on the battlefield. I also doubt that recoiling happened the way it does in DBx games. Recoiling and other mechanics are meant to be abstractions acceptable to one's suspension of disbelief that remove the need for paperwork or markers.

- Ix

Aethelflaeda was framed21 Feb 2019 8:19 a.m. PST

Think of the attrition as on the group, not individual stands. In DBx you really have only three units.: The left group, center and right group. As the line of stands that comprise the units starts to undulate and supports disappear the group loses its efficiency in maneuvering and combat. The individual recoils really reflect balks and unwillingness to close.

David Brown21 Feb 2019 9:16 a.m. PST



But I believe there is a perception of reality that ancient battles were relatively static affairs of long coherent battle lines that crashed and had an attrition "contest".

Highly unlikely. The idea that lines of men crashed into each other and them stood there for prolonged periods each trying to hack the other, is, IMHO, utter tosh.

Within minutes of combat, even the fittest men are knackered and cannot maintain the struggle. Thus lines would clash, have a hack for a few minutes then break off to regroup before having another go, etc, etc.

Though one could, in defence of many broad-brush approach Ancient rules that don't represent this particularly accurately, simply say it's all "factored in" to the overall combat result.


nnascati Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 9:46 a.m. PST

Haven't played DBA for years, but I've al2ays felt it gave a good simulation of Hoplite battles, based on the reading of done on the subject.

Pan Marek21 Feb 2019 9:55 a.m. PST

OK. Do you have any recommendations for rules you think get it right?

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 11:56 a.m. PST

Seems that recoiling was just what the Gauls in the center at Cannae were doing, no?

Napoleon 197421 Feb 2019 12:13 p.m. PST

Thank you all for your answers !

It seems that according to your opinions recoiling is something that really happened in Ancient battles to the extent that the battle lines broke relatively easy.

I find the "regrouping" explanation By David Brown the most convincing. So my conclusion is that DBX games that represent this mechanism, are a more "accurate" simulation of what happened in the Ancient and Medieval battles.

This is very fortunate since this mobility in DBA games, that at least I have played, creates many challenging situations that provide a nice game also.



Korvessa21 Feb 2019 5:48 p.m. PST

Jcfrog +1

evilgong21 Feb 2019 9:00 p.m. PST

Caesar reports pushing some Gauls down a hill, over a creek and up the next hill.

There are some sophisticated studies / theories on what's actually happening as ancient armies clash hand-to-hand.

I suspect 'pulses' of action, periods of rest and re-organisation of the lines at pretty close quarters, followed by more clash of hand-strokes is the best model.

How you might reflect that on the tabletop I leave to your personal taste.

My preference is for DBx as the capacity to handle multiple moving parts creates a great game.

David F Brown

platypus01au22 Feb 2019 2:40 a.m. PST

While we really can't say if the "recoiling" mechanism simulates what actually happened, it is a great mechanism for introducing friction into the game.

DBx games are about PIPs. You have to have enough to maneuver your troops into situations where they have a better chance of killing the enemy than the enemy does.

Breaking up lines of troops gives temporary advantage to one side with overlaps, but forces you to expend precious PIPs into straightening the line, instead of flank attacks etc.

While everyone hopes for a 6, you usually don't get it!

We can find examples in ancient battles for recoiling, but it is mainly a battle mechanism.

I prefer DBx games. I am use to them, which is true, so I have a bias. However I still find the sequential opposed dice combat mechanism to be exciting, and gives me the feeling that I am actually fighting my opponent, that other more mathematical unit-based mechanisms lack.

Hope that helps,

DeRuyter Supporting Member of TMP22 Feb 2019 12:07 p.m. PST

Following up on David's comment I would recommend a game from The Perfect Captain called Hoplomachia. It focuses on classical Greek warfare and breaks the combats down into stages more than the rules you mention. Of course it is focused to one period as well. They also have a Wars of the Roses set that does the same thing. Oh and they are essentially free.


Napoleon 197425 Feb 2019 10:38 a.m. PST

I really thank you all for your comments and clarifications and recommendations. I'd especially like to thank Mr. David F Brown the author of GdB rules. I'm great fun of this rule set, and the accurate way it captures Napoleonic Warfare is the reason why I'm also searching rule sets for A&M period.

So I have to say that most of my disbelief had to do with the simple DBA game. After doing some research and viewing a video of a DBMM battle in youtube I have to say that what I saw is the most realistic battle simulation I ever saw in a game. Difficult to read rules….hmm OK. But I have to give it a try.

Thank you All!

Andy ONeill05 Mar 2019 2:45 p.m. PST

The Romans had a drill to switch out ranks so that fresh men revolved to the front of a unit. Nobody knows exactly how it worked. I can't see how they could do that whilst in contact.


Armour is heavy and hot. Hacking away at someone is exhausting even in mock combat. So I also think it vanishingly unlikely two lines met and just stood there flailing and poking at each other for hours on end.

UshCha06 Mar 2019 3:27 a.m. PST

Its a depressing thing to say but if you look at some riots in the UK it in some ways looks it looks like an ancient battle. Lines of shieled men move forward and only occationally get to use arms as they are pinned in the front crush. Wounded are moved to the rear. The line bends under pressure. Obviously the real bends are too small to model and they do not always "break". Also the base movement is part game and part real.

What interstingly can happen in a DBM game is that sometimes both sides will cease to fight while they "re-organise" it not being in either side interest to push further and lose any sort of control. So part real, part game function. However as a whole it gives quite a credible overall result. Using minor modifications for factors I played many of the battles and scation of the English Civil wat and the results were in many cases supprisingly similar in general terms to the actual battles.

David Brown07 Mar 2019 2:44 a.m. PST



Lines of shielded men move forward and only occasionally get to use arms as they are pinned in the front crush.

I'm not sure that's correct. UK Level 1 and Level 2 police officers aren't generally pinned in these situations. They use similar tactics as mentioned above, rotating each unit as they become knackered. What holds them in line is discipline and the threat of force against anyone who attempts to breach the line. They are not pinned by the press of numbers behind them.

This is different to just holding a line or cordon in front of a "normal" crowd, which can bend or give ground in places but is not the same tactic as dealing with a riot or an "attacking" crowd. The reason a cordon can hold in place for a protracted period is because they are not being continually attacked nor are they attacking.


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