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"Just played SPQR. Ugh." Topic

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Groundcloths & Battlesheets

Wargame groundcloths as seen at Bayou Wars.

2,394 hits since 10 Aug 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tony S11 Aug 2019 12:35 p.m. PST

Just played a game this morning of SPQR. It's from Warlord, and it's by Matthew Sprange of Mongoose, who has written some really good rules in the past.

Sadly, I really, really disliked these new rules.

Some caveats before I give a bit more detail. Firstly, I luckily did not buy nor read the rules. My friend,who was quite looking forward to playing them, read them and refereed two of us at the club. Afterwards he apologized for putting us through the game.

So if we played it wrong, then I humbly apologize as it ain't my fault, but I can only tell you the experience I had.

1. Make big units. Every 10 men gives you a +1 to hit. Put your entire warband into one unit. That way you hit on a 2+. And that also maximizes your defense and lets you crush any smaller units that attack you.

2. Roll lots of dice. LOTS. Again and again. Each figure rolls two dice, depending on the profile, but two seems average for "minions", to use the rules' terminology. So the attacking Britons in one 20 man unit rolls 40 dice, needing if memory serves 3+ to hit. Then my Romans each have a "parry" stat, which means your opponent must reroll that "parry" number of all the successful hits. My Romans, having a big shield, had a Parry 2, so he would reroll 2 times the number of my figures, ie always more than he succeeded in. So, pick up all those 3+ dice (about 30) and reroll those. Then I pick those up that got 3+ again, (say 20) and roll my armour saves, finally removing those figures that fail. Combat is apparently simultaneous, so my Romans all fight back and roll several pounds of dice back at the Britons.

3. At 25% losses for the unit, you roll a die for morale. Roll against your "hero's" morale stat if he's nearby. Reroll if there is a standard. Fail, and the difference is removed as figures. The rest stay around for yet more die rolling.

4. Repeat until only one unit is left. No retreats, no force backs. You do have the option of retreating, but then your opponent gets a free attack. You then fall back and your opponent, if he wins the initiative roll, simply charges you again. Why would you ever retreat then?

There are no flanks, so no reason for maneuvering. Just charge forward with your one massive unit, and then keep rolling dice until one of you have a couple of figures left. With that huge amount of die rolling going on, probability means that both of you are rolling the exact same average score within a few decimal points, so games will probably end up always a close run Pyrrhic victory. (HG Wells' "Little Wars" rules have the same results, but a lot quicker, and had toy cannon firing sticks which would be a lot more fun).

There's no command and control everybody moves a set amount so you can easily predict where you'll meet. And once you meet, just roll buckets of dice at each other.

No skill, no decision points.

As an aside, after the game, I flipped through the rulebook, and noticed that a Pike phalanx can only shoot to a 45 arc to its front.

Sorry shoot? Do the Macedonian phalangites throw their pikes at the enemy? Was caber tossing invented by Philip II and not the Scots? Or do the rules cover the hypothetical, never-tested-in-combat-to-my-knowledge later Alexandrian Persian/Macedonian hybrid phalanx? Maybe you can mix skirmishers in the phalanx? I didn't bother really looking too much further, as I won't be playing it again.

The "heroes", as opposed to the minions, have skill trees and gain super powers as they level up. Perhaps the game is better as a campaign, but it would be nice if the games comprising the campaign were actually interesting, and required more intellect and skill than a game of Yahtzee.

Shame. Warlord make some awesome figures, and the book itself is beautifully presented. Maybe I was taught it incorrectly. If so, perhaps someone can please enlighten me. As I said, I've liked Sprange's other works, so this is quite disappointing.

Pictors Studio11 Aug 2019 12:58 p.m. PST

Might it be that it is designed to be played as a scenario game with objectives?

If so then forming one massive mob of guys might fail when your opponent, with four units lets you destroy one and goes and obtains the objective with the other three?

I'm not sure, when I saw that they were selling a Macedonian warband with pikes in it for a skirmish game I couldn't figure out if it was supposed to be a true skirmish game or a big battle game using small numbers of figures in a unit.

Noss Calavera11 Aug 2019 3:49 p.m. PST

Just another way for them to sell figs. Their games are lackluster imo.

Personal logo The Nigerian Lead Minister Supporting Member of TMP11 Aug 2019 5:07 p.m. PST

There are about 40 scenarios in the book. A fair number have you kill your opponent, but there are a lot of them where you have to grab scattered objectives or get more units than your opponent off the map or into multiple objectives. One giant unit is good for some, bad for others. Looks like light troops could hound a big melee unit to death if you only had one. It is not always a scrum.

Yes it looks dice heavy like many British games. Not sure how much yet, as I just got it and read it. Does look interesting as a campaign for your hero.

nsolomon9911 Aug 2019 10:35 p.m. PST

Yuck!! Thanks, not buying these!

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2019 8:06 a.m. PST

Okay, understand you didn't like the game or the experience and it certainly CAN be played as described but by no means are you REQUIRED to do so. A game where one side chooses a Jagtiger and the other side takes 15 T-34s often has relevance only if there is an objective other than destroying the Jagdtiger.

Scenarios, terrain and other troop types such as skirmishers and cavalry can change the game dramatically.

Not sure about your reference but in the Macedonian lists, pike units do not have a missile capability.

There are flank considerations for units that can be in phalanx formation.

For good or bad, there are indeed buckets and buckets of dice.

Tony S12 Aug 2019 12:42 p.m. PST

I absolutely agree that scenarios and different troops can change things up. I didn't mention it, but we also had a couple of heroes, standards, a chariot and a scorpion. I also broke my Romans up into two units. Admittedly the "scenario" we played was "line 'em up and kill the other guy". We often do that just to get a feel for the rules.

As a comparison we did that for Pikeman's Lament too. The basic game mechanisms proved interesting and fun to us, even in such a simple minded scenario. Naturally, once we added scenarios, and the campaign rules in PL, it got even more fun. It's actually a good comparison to SPQR, because they are both "big skirmish" games (and both include pike, which honestly I'm a trifle dubious about in a skirmish level game), both have lots of scenarios and the campaigns in both are quite similar in that you track your leader's career over a series of battles.

Now, my preference in wargaming is for command and control friction, because that is what happens in war. It also, in my opinion, makes games more interesting and fun. Sometimes bad things happen, and your cunning plan goes awry. How do you recover? Do you have a reserve or contingencies to cover such vagaries of fate? Or, perhaps your opponent suffers from Murphy's Law. Are you flexible enough to take advantage of that?

To put it in wargaming terms (and I certainly do not mean to insult anyone, I'm just stating my preferences. A lot of people really like the rules that I don't) I prefer Chain of Command to Bolt Action; Poor Bloody Infantry or Blitzkrieg Commander to Flames of War; Hail Caesar or DBA to Warhammer Ancient Battles; or Pikemans Lament to SPQR. So, the predictable nature of SPQR does not endear itself to me.

Buckets of dice do not intrinsically annoy me. There are a few rules I like that have weapons like MG42s firing tons of dice – which I think is great fun. It somehow conveys the sense of the bloody high rate of fire of the thing. SPQR does seem a trifle overboard though, and it does get a bit silly throwing so many dice, picking through them, throwing another bucket, before picking through them, throwing a big handful, and then picking through for a final time.

I'm not saying these are awful rules, I'm saying they are awful for my tastes, and hopefully I have given my reasons for such an opinion. Perhaps some will agree, perhaps some won't.

And, by the way, on page 22 of the rulebook, it states

Ranged attacks
A Phalanx may make shooting attacks as normal but
only against targets in its front facing

wmyers12 Aug 2019 1:31 p.m. PST

"And, by the way, on page 22 of the rulebook, it states

Ranged attacks
A Phalanx may make shooting attacks as normal but
only against targets in its front facing"

That makes sense. Those Stargate-esque pikes (the Jaffa Ma'Tok) that fire lazer blasts are so long it would be hard to move them quickly without refacing the unit.

coopman12 Aug 2019 2:36 p.m. PST

"A Phalanx may make shooting attacks as normal but
only against targets in its front facing".

If this is applicable to pike-armed phalanxes, then this ranks as one of the most idiotic statements that I've ever seen in a rules set.

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2019 4:20 p.m. PST

Like I said, I don't understand the rule on page 22 (poor editing?) since none of the units that can use phalanx have any shooting ability.

Tony S12 Aug 2019 5:08 p.m. PST

I think you're right Big Red. A left over idea that should have been edited out? Maybe they were thinking of that possible Persian/Macedonian phalanx, or perhaps allowing Persian sparabara to become a phalanx?

I'm just happy I wasn't imagining reading that rule.

Mike Mayes12 Aug 2019 6:49 p.m. PST

Don't forget that large units are also easier to hit by ranged attacks, +1 for every 10 models. Mobile archers or slingers could do some damage.

Personal logo Condottiere Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2019 5:11 a.m. PST

If this is applicable to pike-armed phalanxes, then this ranks as one of the most idiotic statements that I've ever seen in a rules set.

Maybe it was inserted there to make sure we were paying attention?

Personal logo The Beast Rampant Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2019 10:13 a.m. PST

I had really been interested in these rules, but put it off til I was caught up with other projects.

I have to say, for a ruleset that has a smaller miniscount than Eagle Rampant and other ancient skirmish rules, a lot of the (to me) hinky stuff seems like "top-down/results not simulation" abstractions more appropriate to full-on battle rules.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2019 11:10 a.m. PST

Did any of the men in a phalanx carry darts?

Ten guys isn't going to make a phalanx anyway. Is this a point based system in which you can make imaginary units like a "phalanx" with embedded archers?

Nogbad19 Aug 2019 8:32 a.m. PST

Perhaps the people who have made scathing and sarcastic comments about ranged attacks by phalanxes should take the time to actually read the rules. 'Using a phalanx' page 22 refers to certain units being able to use the rule. Clearly a pike armed Macedonian phalanx does not have missile weapons but Royal Guard (Hypaspists) page 149 have the option to replace Long Spears with Bows or Slings. Thureophoroi page 152 may purchase javelins. Both types can use the Phalanx rule if they are in units of 10 or more. Therefore the Ranged Attacks rules would apply to these troop types. You may not agree with it but the rules are correctly written and it is not a misprint.

Wayniac04 Oct 2019 4:30 a.m. PST

Sounds almost like an Age of Sigmar-ified game (and nothing against that, I play AOS but… yeah…). Easy to game, roll tons of dice, little in the way of strategy and mostly combo stacking.

A shame, this game looked interesting.

RA Cunningham19 Oct 2019 8:48 a.m. PST

I've played many Matt Sprange games and the one thing they have in common is poor playtesting.
I seriously think he does not believe it is necessary.

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