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"Sword and Spear - A dice throwing competition?" Topic


Sword & Spear

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Ghecko24 Jul 2016 3:51 p.m. PST

Since starting to play Sword and Spear about a year ago, I have had about ten or eleven games.

Now, I have been gaming for about forty years and I have come to understand the rules reasonably well. The conclusion that I have come to from these games is this that Sword and Spear is essentially just a dice throwing competition.

Let me explain.

To do well in a game, I see that there are four main stages thus:

Stage 1 You advance your forces towards the enemy, and when and where possible, and if able to shoot, you shoot at him in an attempt to soften him up.
Stage 2 At the same time, you also try to manoeuvre units around his flanks in an effort to gain a flank/rear advantage
Stage 3 You charge in
Stage 4 You fight the combat and hopefully win it

Now, using average Sword and Spear units as an example (discipline 4, in command but with no leaders attached, and not impact troops) let's look at each stage while remembering that things can only get worse if the unit happens to be out of command:

Stage 1 Advance towards the enemy. You need a 4, 5, or 6 to simply advance straight ahead. So, on a 1, 2, or 3 you do absolutely nothing, and you can't shoot.
Stage 2 Try to get units to manoeuvre around his flanks. You would need a 5 or a 6 to manoeuvre (or a 6 if undrilled). So on a 1, 2, 3 or 4 you don't get to manoeuvre (though on a 4 you may still be able to do an advance straight ahead or shoot, but that's not manoeuvring around the flank is it?).
Stage 3 Charge. Again, you would need a 5 or a 6, but it can vary slightly depending on the unit's characteristics. So again, on a 1, 2, 3 or 4 you don't get to charge (and again, on a 4 you may still be able to do an advance straight ahead or shoot, but that's not charging in is it?).
Stage 4 Fight the combat. A number of dice are thrown and the throws are adjusted for armour. Again, the higher the dice the better, so 5's are good but 6's are ideal; 2's are bad and 1's are really bad.

So, for an attack to come off, you need to throw reasonably high to simply advance, and then constantly high to manoeuvre around his flank, and then high to charge, and then very high if you want to win the combat.

Now, I don't know about you, but in virtually every set of rules that I have ever played over the years, the general movement and manoeuvring of your units are not TOTALLY dictated by dice throws. You do often have tests to do odd things like testing to charge for example, and that seems fair enough. However, with Sword and Spear, what you are essentially doing is "testing" to do absolutely anything because there is NOTHING that you can do without throwing a dice!

You need to "test" just to advance directly ahead, even if there is no enemy nearby for miles! You need to "test" to manoeuvre, again, even if there is no enemy nearby for miles! You need to "test" to charge (Ok, that's reasonable). So, fail the "test" and you don't advance or you don't manoeuvre or you don't charge or you don't even shoot.

And that's the point your unit does absolutely nothing! It can't even do something very basic that an actual unit would be likely to do in self-preservation, like turning a little to face an immediate enemy threat, or even backing off slightly out of shooting range. In Sword and Spear, what do you do? You do absolutely nothing!

Even if you want to just stand there and just shoot, you will still require a 4 or better. It doesn't matter if you have the perfect target up nice and close and fully enfiladed along with other friendly units in range that can also fire at it if you don't throw a 4 or better with any of those units, then that unit just stands there twiddling its thumbs. I am seriously struggling to remember any other set of rules where a unit whose basic function it is to shoot at the enemy has to actually "test" to shoot at the enemy!

And consider this. Later, if attempting to rally a hit off the unit, again it's quite unlikely since again you would require a 5 or a 6 if this unit has taken a hit or only a 6 if this unit has taken two or more hits, and even then, to attempt to rally you have to have a commander attached to the unit. Ok, I accept that rallying can be hard, but then again, wouldn't it be easier if the enemy is miles away? Not here.

So, I hope you can see how I have come to the overall conclusion that I have come to that Sword and Spear simply boils down to a dice throwing completion.

Regardless of what your basic strategy is for the game, whatever the layout of the terrain is, whatever your forces are, or whatever your initial deployment is, all of these things only play a minor part in the outcome of the game because the outcome of the game is fundamentally dictated by how good or how poor your overall dice throwing is throughout the game.

Or to put it another way, if you throw above average throughout the game and your opponent doesn't, then you will almost certainly win; if you throw above average throughout the game and your opponent does also, then whoever throws slightly better will probably scrape a win; similarly, if you throw below average throughout the game and your opponent does also, then again, whoever throws slightly better will probably scrape a win; if you throw below average throughout the game and your opponent doesn't, then be assured, you will certainly lose. I've seen all of these happen so far.

So, is Sword and Spear simply a dice throwing completion? I will be interested to know if anyone else has come to (or is coming to) this conclusion.

idontbelieveit24 Jul 2016 4:17 p.m. PST

We played a few games and sort of liked the concepts, but had too many improbable outcomes and the guys I play with lost interest.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian24 Jul 2016 5:35 p.m. PST

If you make a lot of dierolls, then everything should even out.

It would be different if the game hinged on just a few key dierolls.

Kenntak24 Jul 2016 6:22 p.m. PST

I own Sword & Spear, and I have to agree with you. I got frustrated by the micromanagement necessary to do basic things. For example, why can't a line of troops move together (group move does not move the entire line)? I also got frustrated with the combat resolution. The results just were not satisfying. I gave Sword & Spear a try, but have now moved onto other rules which I feel better portray ancient combat, or are more fun to play.

IanKHemm25 Jul 2016 1:52 a.m. PST

And what other games can you suggest where, if you roll poorly and your opponent rolls well, you'll still come out a winner? Nearly all wargame rules suffer from this basic complication.

I like the system used in Sword & Spear. It forces you to use you troops as best you can depending on the circumstances. Not all Troops are discipline 4 so it would be very unlikely that all of you troops would be in the same boat. Your best troops would likely be discipline 3, add a commander and move as a group and they'll all move on a roll of 2. That leaves your higher dice for your lesser troops.

It's all about resource management and maximising your best efforts at one point in your enemy's defence instead of trying to attack everywhere at the same time.

Keithandor25 Jul 2016 1:59 a.m. PST

It sounds like you are playing it wrong , you don't test to shoot/advance charge , you roll your command dice and allocate them.
You get to decide where you will allocate your dice to shoot or charge , this is the fun decision making part of Sword and Spear.
Some dice that come up a 1 or 2 that you cant use are considered lost orders etc.
But you always have the choices , it doesn't always go to plan.
My favourite Ancients rules , I always have fun playing it.

1ngram25 Jul 2016 3:17 a.m. PST

It can be a fun game but, as implied in the posts above, it bears no relation to how most people think an ancient battle actually went. You can't move a complete phalanx or attack all at once in a phalanx etc.

But it suits ECW perfectly. The difficulty of coordination, the movement and combat of and between discrete units all looks good when individual pike blocks, regiments advance against one another. I've played ECW using S+S a few times now and it works well.

Dexter Ward25 Jul 2016 1:42 p.m. PST

The analysis in the original post is way off. You don't roll a dice to activate each unit; you roll a bunch of dice and then decide which units to allocate them to. So you can allocate high dice to units you want to do stuff.
That's a huge difference. All you need is one 5 or 6 out of (say) 12 dice to get that fancy manouevre.
It's true that Sword & Spear does have quite a lot of luck, but it makes for an exciting and engaging game.

Ghecko25 Jul 2016 8:06 p.m. PST

Ok.

If you make a lot of die rolls, then everything should even out. It would be different if the game hinged on just a few key die rolls.

And it often does hinge on just a few key die rolls during combat in particular. Note what I said:

Or to put it another way, if you throw above average throughout the game and your opponent doesn't, then you will almost certainly win; if you throw above average throughout the game and your opponent does also, then … etc, etc, etc.

Would this not be true?

And what other games can you suggest where, if you roll poorly and your opponent rolls well, you'll still come out a winner? Nearly all wargame rules suffer from this basic complication.

Note what was said above It can happen if the game hinges on just a few key die rolls. Please note carefully what I said:

Now, I don't know about you, but in virtually every set of rules that I have ever played over the years, the general movement and manoeuvring of your units are not TOTALLY dictated by dice throws. … However, with Sword and Spear, what you are essentially doing is "testing" to do absolutely anything because there is NOTHING that you can do without throwing a dice!

Can you name a set of rules where absolutely EVERYTHING is dictated by a dice throw? Can you name a set of rules where a unit whose basic function it is to shoot at the enemy has to actually throw a dice (and then allocated it to the unit, that is, you essentially do a "test" for that unit) to just get to shoot at the enemy!

It sounds like you are playing it wrong, you don't test to shoot/advance charge, you roll your command dice and allocate them. You get to decide where you will allocate your dice to shoot or charge, this is the fun decision making part of Sword and Spear. Some dice that come up a 1 or 2 that you cant use are considered lost orders etc.

After forty years of regular gaming I think I know what I'm doing.

Question: Isn't the simple act of throwing a dice actually doing some sort of "test"? Discipline or higher on the dice and you "pass" and you can do things; lower than your discipline on the dice and you "fail" and you can't do things. It's a test. Again:

However, with Sword and Spear, what you are essentially doing is "testing" to do absolutely anything because there is NOTHING that you can do without throwing a dice!

Is that statement true or not? Is there anything that you can do in Sword and Spear that does not require a dice throw first? Can you advance without throwing a dice? Manoeuvre? Charge perhaps? Resolve a combat? Shoot perhaps? Maybe rally? No. I didn't think so.

The analysis in the original post is way off. You don't roll a dice to activate each unit; you roll a bunch of dice and then decide which units to allocate them to. So you can allocate high dice to units you want to do stuff. That's a huge difference. All you need is one 5 or 6 out of (say) 12 dice to get that fancy manouevre.

Way off…? Again, is there anything in Sword and Spear that does not require a dice throw first?

It's true that Sword & Spear does have quite a lot of luck, but it makes for an exciting and engaging game.

Way, way, way too much reliance on luck if you ask me. Again…

If you throw above average throughout the game and your opponent doesn't [that is, he's been lucky and you have not], then you will almost certainly win; if you throw above average throughout the game and your opponent does also [that is, he's been lucky and you have been also], then whoever throws slightly better will probably scrape a win; similarly, … etc, etc, etc.

As I said, I have been gaming for about forty years and I have come to understand the rules reasonably well. The conclusion that I have come to from these games is this that Sword and Spear is essentially just a dice throwing competition, and I note that some here agree with me.

Keithandor25 Jul 2016 10:47 p.m. PST

40 Years! Might be time for a break :)

So I guess you might prefer FOG or DBM ?

I quite like and enjoy Sword and Spear , I wont play FOG or DBx.

Marshal Mark26 Jul 2016 1:56 a.m. PST

As the author I'm not going to say how great Sword & Spear is, as I'm obviously biased, but I will address a few of the points made.

Firstly, as others have mentioned above, you are not "testing" to activate units. That would imply that you roll a dice when activating a unit and need to roll a certain number. That really does put you at the mercy of the dice. As you roll the dice first and then allocate them to units, it is about resource management how well you use the dice you have rolled.

So, for an attack to come off, you need to throw reasonably high to simply advance, and then constantly high to manoeuvre around his flank, and then high to charge, and then very high if you want to win the combat.

With a typical army consisting of mainly average units, and a couple of superior units and maybe a couple of poor quality units, with average action dice rolls you can expect to activate around 70 80% of your units each turn. So you don't need to roll high to get your army to do things (as long as your plan isn't too complicated).

Now, I don't know about you, but in virtually every set of rules that I have ever played over the years, the general movement and manoeuvring of your units are not TOTALLY dictated by dice throws.

There are many other popular rules where unit activation depends on dice rolls all of the DBX games, Warmaster, Hail Caesar, and also plenty of examples in other periods or scale of battle such as Lion Rampant. Also there are games where cards are required to activate units (effectively working in the same way as dice) such as To The Strongest. Sword & Spear is a lot more forgiving, and less effected by extreme dice rolling than most of these.

Regardless of what your basic strategy is for the game, whatever the layout of the terrain is, whatever your forces are, or whatever your initial deployment is, all of these things only play a minor part in the outcome of the game because the outcome of the game is fundamentally dictated by how good or how poor your overall dice throwing is throughout the game.

This is simply not true. The better player will win most of the time. I win the majority of my games against my regular opponent say 70-80% of them, and it would be higher if I didn't give him advice on what to do. When we used to play DBM and FOG I probably won 90 95% of my games against the same opponent, and Sword & Spear is deliberately a little more luck dependant than these games, but there is still a lot of strategy and skill involved. If it was all based on luck then you would expect to have won about 50% of your games, but I remember you posting on my forum saying you had not won a game in your first eight games.

Sword & Spear isn't going to be the game for everyone – it is based on the design assumption that units don't always do what you want them to, and that there is fog of war. This should be apparent to anyone reading any reviews or any of the information about the game on my website. If you think that it is trivial to get thousands of troops to march in unison and do exactly what you want, when you want, then there are other games out there where you can do that, but Sword & Spear is not that game.

platypus01au26 Jul 2016 2:33 a.m. PST

There are many other popular rules where unit activation depends on dice rolls all of the DBX games

True enough. Though you soon learn to plan for poor PIPs by keeping in line and not breaking your army into too many manoeuvre groups.

However most DBMM and DBA players can tell you the point where they lost the game, where you needed a 2 and only threw a 1, or the series of 6-1 dice rolls that broke your line. Poor to average players like me find it hard to recover, though good players seem to know how to ameliorate the poor dice.

Interestingly, good DBMM and DBA players will often deliberately try to turn the game into a dice-throwing competition if they can see their opponent is too strong.

Cheers,
JohnG

platypus01au26 Jul 2016 2:36 a.m. PST

Also, I think Lion Rampant is much worse in this respect. But then I think it is designed that way deliberately.

JohnG

Ghecko26 Jul 2016 3:47 p.m. PST

Marshal Mark as author of the rules I thank your reply and for your thoughts.

You said:

Firstly, as others have mentioned above, you are not "testing" to activate units. That would imply that you roll a dice when activating a unit and need to roll a certain number. That really does put you at the mercy of the dice. As you roll the dice first and then allocate them to units, it is about resource management how well you use the dice you have rolled.

I said this:

Isn't the simple act of throwing a dice actually doing some sort of "test"? Discipline or higher on the dice and you "pass" and you can do things; lower than your discipline on the dice and you "fail" and you can't do things.

It's essentially a "test". The only difference is that you throw first and allocate second.

I went on to say:

However, with Sword and Spear, what you are essentially doing is "testing" to do absolutely anything because there is NOTHING that you can do without throwing a dice!

Mark: Is that statement true or not? Is there anything a player can do without throwing a dice?

And I gave an example (with some clarifications in brackets):

Even if you want to just stand there and just shoot, you will still require a 4 or better [to be allocated to the unit]. It doesn't matter if you have the perfect target up nice and close and fully enfiladed along with other friendly units in range that can also fire at it if you don't throw [and allocate to that unit] a 4 or better with any of those units, then that unit just stands there twiddling its thumbs. I am seriously struggling to remember any other set of rules where a unit whose basic function it is to shoot at the enemy has to actually "test" to shoot at the enemy!

Yes, it may not be keen to move forward, manoeuvre, charge, etc, but I'm sure if a nice, juicy, enfiladed target became available, then it would certainly take the opportunity to shoot at it.

… and Sword & Spear is deliberately a little more luck dependant than these games, but there is still a lot of strategy and skill involved. If it was all based on luck then you would expect to have won about 50% of your games, but I remember you posting on my forum saying you had not won a game in your first eight games.

This is correct. In eleven games now, I have only won one game (and then, only just) and lost ten, several quite badly. Why?

I have put it down to two things, and my opponents can verify this:

First: Unlucky dice throwing at key moments, that is, losing combats that you had a high chance of winning via low dice throws.

Second: Having too low a dice to allocate to a unit do the obvious action required at the required time.

Mark: As you said above, you would expect around a 50/50 win/loss rate, perhaps even 75/25 if you play well. However, if you are winning at around 90/10, then that clearly shows there is something wrong that or you are just super lucky.

So, if it's not the rules, then it must be the nature of the army lists. You did mention you were biased about the rules. Perhaps the army lists also have a bias for a particular style of army, eh…?

From my games, it appears so. Armies with good quality troops (my regular opponents) seem to beat my fairly average quality army (Classical Indian) regularly.

40 Years! Might be time for a break.

Yes, I have been gaming for forty years, and yes, I agree If I'm getting this irritated about a set of rules, then yes, maybe it is time for a break.

MichaelCollinsHimself26 Jul 2016 11:01 p.m. PST

"…a change is as good…"

Marshal Mark27 Jul 2016 12:56 a.m. PST

Ghecko

Yes, you need to use dice to activate units. That is the core mechanic of the game and it's what makes it so challenging and enjoyable. You yourself have said (on the Sword & Spear forum) "I do like the rules" and "I'm not a big ancients player, but these are the best set of rules I've played to date".

It might seem strange that a unit will not even shoot without an action dice showing the required number, but remember that you are looking at the game from above with perfect information. This is very different from what the troops on the ground would perceive. There are various reasons why a unit might not shoot they might be low on ammunition, visibility might be poor (e.g. due to dust clouds) or there might be doubt about whose side the target unit is on is that cavalry to the flank an enemy unit on a flanking manoeuvre or a friendly unit retreating to regroup? These things are all part of the fog of war that the activation system represents.

In eleven games now, I have only won one game (and then, only just) and lost ten, several quite badly. Why?
I have put it down to two things….Unlucky dice throwing …… Having too low a dice …

Is it not possible that you lost because your opponent(s) played better than you?

As you said above, you would expect around a 50/50 win/loss rate, perhaps even 75/25 if you play well. However, if you are winning at around 90/10, then that clearly shows there is something wrong that or you are just super lucky.

Why does a 90% win rate show that there is something wrong? If someone is winning 90% of their games (at any game) my first assumption would be that it was because they are a better player. There is no such thing as a lucky player, but a good player often seems lucky because he has a plan that can suffer some setbacks and still work, and he gets good match-ups where he will win even if the dice don't always go his way.

Rather than blaming the rules, or your dice throwing, or the army lists, maybe you should look at the tactics you are using. You've posted similar threads to this on the Sword & Spear forum, but might it not have been better to post something along the lines of what tactical advice could you give me to win with Classical Indians ?

Marcus Brutus27 Jul 2016 6:37 a.m. PST

Players have streaks of good luck and bad. 11 games isn't a lot of play time. I know it must feel like it is but it isn't. We play Impetus and it took us about 50+ games to finally get a feel for the system. This is one of the reasons I now resist modifying rules too quickly. Also, one needs to play a variety of armies before one can fully evaluate the system. In any rules set some armies perform better than others. I'd say that Classical Indian in Impetus is a bit on the weak side as an army list.

Do units that have the option to flank charge or flank fire get a lower activation number because of this?

Ghecko27 Jul 2016 2:44 p.m. PST

Yep, I think you guys (and girls?) are right its time for a holiday I'm going to have a break from gaming for a while.

I still think there is something not quite right, if not with the rules, then with the army lists. I have always felt that there should be more compulsory troops and/or restrictions in many of the armies to at least make armies a little more "historical".

One example I can think of is that of a Roman Federate army, one army I have been considering simply because I have enough figures to make a Roman army. I note that I could deploy it as all mounted units not a foot figure in sight. That seems a little odd to me, given that it's Roman.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to reply Mark (and to the others who also replied). Although I've been irritated at times by the rules, I still appreciate your efforts and passion in getting the rules out there.

Locally, they appear to have been well received, and anything that gets people together and table top gaming is good in my sight.

Cheers.

Dexter Ward28 Jul 2016 1:59 a.m. PST

An all-mounted Roman Federate army is entirely historical.
It represents a high quality field force commanded by the likes of Aetius racing to face off the latest barbarian incursion.

Ghecko29 Aug 2016 2:54 p.m. PST

Quite reluctantly, I got roped into another game for old times sake (400 points) with a friend of mine from way back in high school days. My late Republican Romans (with lots of good heavy infantry with thrown weapons and armour) vs his Late Successor (with some very good cavalry, one elephant unit, two phalanx units and some light foot units). Figuring my infantry should be able to defend well, I set up very defensively on and around a hill, and initially let him come to me.

Out of curiosity, I kept track of my dice throwing and his. My dice throwing was average over the game; his was slightly above average over the game. The result? After the two and a half hours set for the game, I had lost two legionnaire units with one just about to go and several others with hits. His? Not a single unit lost but with some hits on several units.

Tactics seem almost irrelevant. You just close into charge range, charge when ready and hope like hell you throw good dice right at that point. Throw poorly at that point and … well, no guesses as to when my overall average dice throwing decided to slip below average, and his didn't eh? And against his impact troops.

Again I say Sword and Spear is clearly just a dice throwing competition, and I will add that seems to be biased for high quality, impact mounted units. Poor quality troops will never have a chance, so why would anyone bother with them?

I have already said that there seems to be something wrong with the rules, and I am convinced of that now. I have also said that there seems to be something wrong with the army lists as well, and I am also sure that this is the case now.

Dexter Ward30 Aug 2016 5:16 a.m. PST

So let's get this straight.
You fought a battle where you used none of the advantages of the Romans such as good maneuverability. Instead you fought a straight up slugfest, and now you are complaining there are no tactics and it all comes down to luck?
Not only that, but you say it is all a dice throwing contest and yet you always lose?
Doesn't that tell you something?

This doesn't suggest a problem with the rules.
Maybe you should try actually using the advantages of your army to gain an edge rather than just assuming you will win and then complaining when you don't? I believe it's called 'tactics'.

Ghecko30 Aug 2016 3:04 p.m. PST

Don't give me any male bovine excrement Dexter. I will suggest that its most likely that you haven't even read what I have already posted above. I have been playing for over forty years. I know the rules quite well. Sometimes I attack; sometimes I'm defensive depends on the terrain and the opponent. Sometimes I use my Romans (in various forms). Sometimes I use my Classical Indians (in various forms) depends on the opponent. The rules are clearly biased towards having good quality mounted impact cavalry simple as that. Any average army (such as say my classical Indians) or any poor quality army doesn't stand a chance, even in large numbers, given the rule mechanisms. Think it out mate. Such mounted troops go through them like a dose of salts. If you can't see that, then… well, you "enjoy" them.

MichaelCollinsHimself31 Aug 2016 1:30 a.m. PST

Dear Ghecko,
When discussing the value of rules mechanisms and the die rolls that are employed, I think we need to consider what these die rolls represent, how well they reflect (or simulate) the real processes of command and control, etc… and in the results, demonstrate to us on table the nature of the combat (the troop behaviours), and the expected range of results that one might expect from the historical battles.
Perhaps the command and control side of these rules has too much die rolling for you?

Ghecko01 Sep 2016 2:29 p.m. PST

Michael you are correct. As I have noted, you can't do a damn thing unless you can allocate an action dice equal to or greater than the unit's discipline rating. That means poor quality units (discipline rating 5) don't do a lot. Unless they have a 5 or 6 allocated, they can't move; can't charge; can't even turn; and can't even fire unless you can allocate an action dice equal or greater than the unit's discipline rating. That means for much of a game they just sit there and scratch their… so why would anyone bother with them?

Are the rules really "historical"? Well, that's probably up for discussion as with any rules.

However, I ask: Are the army lists "historical"? Clearly not. For a typical 500 point game, one can manipulate the army lists to suit the rules, and not field what a nation's army would probably field.

For example: let's consider something that Dexter posted:

An all-mounted Roman Federate army is entirely historical. It represents a high quality field force commanded by the likes of Aetius racing to face off the latest barbarian incursion.

Ok. For a 500 point game, I could field an army of 3 captains, 8 federate cavalry, 2 roman cavalry, 1 light cavalry and 1 cataphract unit 12 cavalry units in total no foot at all. Referring to page 37 of the rules, a cavalry unit represents about 1500 troops. Therefore, 12 x 1500 = 18,000 cavalry all in the same place at the same time on the frontier and not a foot soldier in sight? Really?

Similarly, for the Classical Indians, I could field 9 elephant units with no foot at all. Page 37 again a unit of elephants represents about 100 elephants. Therefore, 9 x 100 = 900 elephants all in the same place and all at the same time? And again, not a foot soldier in sight to support them? Yep, that sounds "historic".

There is a Sword and Spear tournament coming up at the MOAB convention in Sydney in October. My prediction is that most (if not all) of the armies fielded will have lots of high quality impact cavalry, lots of good quality light cavalry and very little foot. If they have foot, it will be light foot or heavy foot with spear or pike armament. You won't see armies that rely mainly on shooting. Or to put it another way lights, knights and pikes.

Marcus Brutus01 Sep 2016 6:47 p.m. PST

I took a look at a few lists for S&P and was surprised that there were no minimums or maximums for the various unit types. That does seem like a significant oversight to me and allows players too wide a latitude in putting together army lists.

Marshal Mark02 Sep 2016 1:26 a.m. PST

I took a look at a few lists for S&P and was surprised that there were no minimums or maximums for the various unit types.

Actually there are. Some troop types are compulsory (minimum of 2 units), all non core troop types are restricted to a maximum of two units, and some are restricted to one unit only.

However, I deliberately made the army lists more flexible than in many other systems. The army lists are intended to mainly be guidelines as to how troop types should be represented within the rules.
One thing I wanted to avoid was what happens in many other ancients games, where the armies we know most about get penalised because of much tighter restrictions in army lists, whereas the more obscure armies get much more flexibility. So tournaments end up getting dominated by obscure armies, and the well known, historically successful ones are no-where to be seen.

Also, there is not a fixed troop scale, as the game can be used to represent a range of battle sizes (from around 6,000 per side to 60,000). This makes it difficult to give a restrictive range of units like other army lists do, as an army could represent a large field army representing the whole forces a nation could muster, or it could be a smaller more mobile detachment.

So yes, the lists are flexible and can be abused. There have been a few such comments previously. However, whilst people have said things like "the lists allow you to have an Indian army entirely consisting of elephants" (which isn't actually true, as foot are compulsory in the Indian army) I've not heard of anyone ever doing such a thing. It seems to me that players are using the lists as intended to build armies that are reasonable in terms of historical accuracy. Some people seem to be looking for a problem where there isn't one.

Marshal Mark02 Sep 2016 1:41 a.m. PST

To respond to a few more of Ghecko's points:

As I have noted, you can't do a damn thing unless you can allocate an action dice equal to or greater than the unit's discipline rating. That means poor quality units (discipline rating 5) don't do a lot. Unless they have a 5 or 6 allocated, they can't move; can't charge; can't even turn; and can't even fire unless you can allocate an action dice equal or greater than the unit's discipline rating. That means for much of a game they just sit there and scratch their… so why would anyone bother with them?

But you would expect a third of your action dice to come up 5s or 6s. So even if you have a third of your army as poor units you would expect to be able to activate them on most turns (if activating them is a priority). Poor troops have just as many combat dice as other troops, and are half the points cost of good quality troops, so having some such units in an army can be useful.

I will add that seems to be biased for high quality, impact mounted units

It's funny how you have come to this conclusion (which you seem certain of) from a handful of games with a limited number of armies, whereas the hundreds of other players, who have played probably thousands of games which a huge variety of armies do not share this view. When the second edition was released I made a few minor tweaks to points values; before doing so I asked the playing community if they though any particular troop types where costed wrongly. There was not a feeling that impact mounted were too good or too cheap.

There is a Sword and Spear tournament coming up at the MOAB convention in Sydney in October. My prediction is that most (if not all) of the armies fielded will have lots of high quality impact cavalry, lots of good quality light cavalry and very little foot. If they have foot, it will be light foot or heavy foot with spear or pike armament. You won't see armies that rely mainly on shooting. Or to put it another way lights, knights and pikes.

I'm not going to try to predict the future, but we can look to the past. There haven't been many S&S tournaments, but there have been a few in Australia, and here is the list of armies from one such tournament which took place last year:
Mongols
Crusaders
Numidians or Iberians
Gauls
Romans
Palmyran
Romans Late
Later Medieval English
Alexander the Great
Carthaginians

Quite a mix of armies, and certainly not supporting your viewpoint, especially the "very little foot" comment.

Ghecko02 Sep 2016 8:50 p.m. PST

Let's see: Mongols vs Crusaders yep, that's historic… Numidians vs Later Medieval English yep, that's historic too… Alexander the Great vs Mongols ditto.

In competitions, and in all other games, people will always deploy the best army for the rules if they can. They won't care about historic deployments.

But you would expect a third of your action dice to come up 5s or 6s. So even if you have a third of your army as poor units you would expect to be able to activate them on most turns (if activating them is a priority).

And vice versa you would expect two thirds of your action dice to not be a 5 or 6 correct? And what does a unit do if it has no action dice allocated oh yes, that's right it just sits there scratching its … hell, it can't even shoot.

Poor troops have just as many combat dice as other troops, and are half the points cost of good quality troops, so having some such units in an army can be useful.

Yet, a poor quality unit has exactly the same army value towards the one third morale check and army break as a very good unit does.

What's the odds for a Classical Indian Archer unit (Disc 5, Strength 3, LP, Bow, 15 pts each, Army Value 3) beating a fresh Late Med English Knight unit (Disc 4, Strength 3, HA, Impact Cavalry, 44 pts each, Army Value 4).

The knight unit has an advantage in manoeuvring, has a considerably advantage in armour, has an advantage being impact, has the advantage of being cavalry, especially if fresh. Yet, the foot have an army value of 3 vs the knights 4. It's clear that the bow unit is quite unlikely to beat the knight unit true? It is also clear that the knight unit will almost certainly crush the bow unit true? So having poor quality units is not as much of an advantage as you seem to think.

I notice you didn't comment on this:

For a 500 point game, I could field an army of 3 captains, 8 federate cavalry, 2 roman cavalry, 1 light cavalry and 1 cataphract unit 12 cavalry units in total no foot at all. Referring to page 37 of the rules, a cavalry unit represents about 1500 troops. Therefore, 12 x 1500 = 18,000 cavalry all in the same place at the same time on the frontier and not a foot soldier in sight? Really?

So yes, the lists are flexible and can be abused. There have been a few such comments previously. However, whilst people have said things like "the lists allow you to have an Indian army entirely consisting of elephants" (which isn't actually true, as foot are compulsory in the Indian army) I've not heard of anyone ever doing such a thing. It seems to me that players are using the lists as intended to build armies that are reasonable in terms of historical accuracy. Some people seem to be looking for a problem where there isn't one.

Yes, my mistake the Indians do have to field foot, but only need to field two compulsory foot units so throw on a couple of cheap, crappy bow units, stick them out of the way (after all, they are worth 3 army points each and are very fragile), and field 8 elephant units (which I have actually tried once, in my second game ever). It didn't work as well as I thought. Why? With a discipline of 4, an unable to improve this by attaching a commander, an elephant unit only has a 50/50 chance of even getting an action dice, and being undrilled, it requires a 6 to manoeuvre. Result? I mostly stood around and slowly got outflanked by better quality units that could manoeuvre.


Mongols, Crusaders, Numidians or Iberians, Gauls, Romans, Palmyran, Romans Late, Later Medieval English, Alexander the Great and Carthaginians. Yes, a mix there Mark, and yet, we don't know what they actually fielded do we? Each army list noted there is, as you said…

… flexible and can be abused.

anglosaxonman03 Sep 2016 10:15 a.m. PST

Ghecko it's your right not to like sword and spear but you do seem to be labouring the point! It would be a shame if anyone didn't try S&S on the back of your comments. I'm also intrigued to know what ancient rules you do like?

platypus01au03 Sep 2016 3:21 p.m. PST

But you would expect a third of your action dice to come up 5s or 6s

It doesn't work like that. The problem is that you often get runs of high or low dice. It is true that it should "average out in the end", but that is no help if you get a run of highs early in the game, but when it comes to the crunchy end, you get a run of lows.

Battles will often have critical points where it can be decided, and if at that point you are having a run of low dice, you could easily lose, or be set up to lose.

Now my favourite set, DBMM, is not immune to this. I've had some shockers where my PIP and combat dice have deserted me. I had a similar game last Thursday. I play a lot of DBMM, and I've had some games where I've had to apologise to my opponent for having such arsy dice. But I like the tension and DBMM has ways in the rules to deal with this.

But I can understand that casual players may be frustrated by this, and that is a perfectly valid perception. If you only play the game once every three months, you won't understand all the rules, and a couple of bad dice runs will ruin the experience. That isn't your fault, but it also isn't the rules fault. Some sets just don't work for casual players.

Cheers,
JohnG

CptKremmen01 Dec 2016 3:56 a.m. PST

We have not found sword and spear to be perfect by any means… But it is still our favourite Ancients rules.

We've just tried To the Strongest and felt the amount of luck in that was way more than sword and spear and have given up on it.

No rule set is for everyone but Sword and Spear is a pretty good set of rules.

I also would be interested in hearing which set of Ancients rules Ghecko does like, I might want to give them a try….

Andy

andyfb01 Dec 2016 7:44 p.m. PST

"Referring to page 37 of the rules, a cavalry unit represents about 1500 troops."

Ummm, no, read the lines above the chart that represents how many men the units have.

It's an example of how you can work out how to build your army for historical scenarios.

Almost every Ancients game I have played requires you roll a dice for command points/pips etc, the only one I have ever played that didn't have them was WAB!

Most rules have armies of roughly 12 units and you get to roll 1 dice, this will tell you how many units you can activate.

There are a lot of things that go into winning a game, troop choice, terrain, deployment, tactics and resource management.

I played 2 games of Triumph! the other night, lost both, my tactics were wrong, nothing to do with the rules!

jwebster04 Jan 2017 1:20 p.m. PST

We played one game of Sword and Spear, playing Vikings vs Vikings

I am a big fan of resource management, but as soon as combat started, activation dice (due to opponent attacking) get removed from the bag, so almost no movement of any other troops was possible – more important to activate units in the line to attack

We couldn't figure out what we did wrong, but it was mostly a slugfest between two lines which went very slowly. There didn't seem to be a concept of recoil, so it wasn't possible to break up the line without killing a unit outright, which was hard to do.

I don't think our bow units ever got in a position to shoot so don't know about the shooting rules. I would note that Dragon/Lion Rampant/SAGA do require you to activate to shoot so it is not just this ruleset

So, based on a statistically insignificant sample of one battle, I agree with OP that there is something that doesn't quite work with these rules but I have no clue what it is. Love the mechanism of activation dice in a bag and the combat mechanism, but didn't quite get there for me.

John

JorgenCAB30 Aug 2017 3:38 p.m. PST

I have played numerous games of Sword & Spear, both historical and fantasy version… mostly fantasy version though.

I have found that tactics are very important and the game are NOT a dice throwing contest.

First of you need to… I repeat… you need to account for the fact that there will be a high degree of uncertainty in any individual engagement that you do.

In my opinion Sword & Spear give a very good SIMULATION of the command & control and Fog of War at the same time.

Units are rather similar for a reason in terms of their effectiveness on the battlefield. Heavy Foot in one army will be virtual identical to heavy foot in another in the grand scheme of things.

I find that there can sometimes be big swings of either initiative or battle results (or both). I think this is highly realistic, allot of historical battles have been down to huge strings of luck or coincidences no one could really predicted.

Remember that a general at the time had no stats on their troops of know they would throw six versus four dice in any given situation. A general even having half the information we do about the status of both our own and the enemy troops and the overall odds would be an Oracle.
How many times do you not read about stupid maneuver done by commander no player would do since they know the odds of said action, commander at the time did not have that luxury or they would never had done it.

In short, no the game are not a dice throwing game, but I also don't think Sword & Spear are good for tournament type games either. At least not competitive tournament styles, there are a bit too much "Fog of War" mechanics going on for a more analytical style of play.

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