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Sword & Spear

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J Oaks05 Oct 2014 8:26 p.m. PST

Although there have been other reviews of Sword and Spear, this one will look at some additional items.

The cover art is good and is repeated on the title page. There are 40 pages and they are well laid out. There is an index at the back. Quite a few photographs of miniatures are included throughout the rules. Some illustrate various troop types and others demonstrate different basing methods. The rules are clearly and concisely written. Good diagrams help explain game play. There is one error that occurs in several places in the rules. This is the use of the plural word "dice" when referring to a single die. Fortunately this has little effect on game play other than making sure to use a single die instead of multiple dice.

The rules use the basic troop types divided between foot, mounted, and train. Artillery, baggage, and war wagons are classed as train. Light foot and light horse are also noted as skirmishers. Different types of troops need different levels of armor for protection, with lighter troops needing less to have the same level of protection as heavier types. Units can consist of one or more bases and all must have the same frontage. No rebasing is needed.

Like many recent rule sets no ground, troop, or time scales are mentioned. These can be determined from the shooting ranges and movement rates. Using the range for bows and comparing that to the archery manuals gives a scale of about 800 men for a unit of infantry in close order eight ranks deep. Light infantry would have half this number and elephant units would represent 5 or 6 elephants. Some infantry units can also be deep formations such as pikes which should be twice as deep though the examples in the rules are only half again as deep. Since a scale is not given, hopefully this is correct. When using 80mm wide units the bow range in Sword And Spear is almost the same as the bow range in FOG which could make a unit of heavy infantry equal to 1000 men. The heavy infantry movement rate would equal about five minutes or less per turn.

Terrain types are similar to those used for most rules. Terrain placement uses a random die roll that tends to put most terrain features near the table edges leaving the center fairly open. After terrain is placed the armies are deployed. Both players may bid action dice to add to the scouting value of their light horse. The higher total deploys second during each deployment phase. Any action dice that were bid are not used during the first turn. There are three deployment phases starting with heavy foot and train and ending with skirmishers and commanders.

Each game turn is divided into a preparation phase several action phases, and an end phase. The preparation phase involves the players placing one d6 for each of their units in a bag. The action phases involve drawing a number of dice from the bag with the side with the most dice drawn being the active player. The number of action phases will depend on how many units are in play and how many dice are drawn each phase. There is an optional rule for large/multiplayer games where both sides roll all their dice at once instead do drawing them from the bag. The active side being determined by the greater number of high scoring dice.

Die rolls must equal or exceed the discipline rating of a unit for it to move or act. Higher die rolls allow a unit to do more and maneuver better or get a combat bonus. A die score equal to a units discipline rating only allows it to advance without maneuvering. Units can only be activated once. This is a fun way to break up the igougo alternating turn sequence, but like Warmaster can result in some units not moving. However, this makes it impossible to recreate the Gallic charges at Bibracte or Sambre or the advances of Alexander the Greats army in his battles. In these cases and many other historical battles the advancing army moved as a whole formation instead of only part of the army moving and not in starts and stops. (affects activation and rallying) and a strength rating (affects combat and amount of damage it can take).

Both shooting and melee use the same combat mechanism. A number of dice are rolled by both sides and the dice are matched high score against high score and low against low. There are modifiers for various conditions that will affect the number of dice thrown and the scores can be modified by armor protection or lack of the same. The results can be no affect if the dice are equal, a discipline test, or if the difference is great enough a hit reducing the strength of a unit. Hits are cumulative, but can be removed by rallying a unit with a high enough die roll. The section on shooting lists the ranges of the different weapons. Longbows and crossbows have been given a greater range than other bows. This is different from FOG and DBX which give all bows the same range. There has been some discussion on other groups and I believe there has also been one on TMP about the differences between different bows and composite bows out ranging longbows. However, it costs twice as many points to give a unit longbows in Sword And Spear as it does to give them other bows.

Passing a discipline test results in no effect while failing a discipline test will cause a hit. A unit will rout if the hits equal to its strength rating. When a unit routs an action die is removed from the starting total. When the value of the units that are routing reaches one third of the original army value an army morale test is required. When it reaches half the army is demoralized and withdraws and the other side is the winner. If both armies are demoralized the battle is a draw.

Towards the later part of the rules there is a section for special features (and units), a section on unit characteristics, a section on stratagems, a section on multi-player games, a section on basing recording hits and table sizes and a section on scenarios.

The section on stratagems includes ambushes, scouting, and other tricks. These cost points. The point values for the various stratagems can be found on the website for the rules along with a growing set of army lists which are quite good.

The section on scenarios includes ambushes, attacks on prepared positions and river crossings. One of the battles listed for the river crossing scenario is The battle of the Hydaspes river. This is the battle chosen for next years Society of Ancients Battle Day. While Alexander did have to cross the Hydaspes, the only opposition he faced while crossing were a few scouts and sentries. The actual battles against Porus and his son did not have a river between the opposing armies.

Sword And Spear is fun game to play. The rules are well supported on the rules website

James Oakshott

Khusrau05 Oct 2014 10:14 p.m. PST

"The action phases involve drawing a number of dice from the bag with the side with the most dice drawn being the active player. "

so having a large number of units makes you more likely to go first? No thanks.

Zargon05 Oct 2014 10:16 p.m. PST

Nice clear review,thanks James
Cheers.

evilgong05 Oct 2014 10:50 p.m. PST

I think dice as singular is becoming accepted, may already be in many circles.

Thanks for the review. People are talking about these rules, which must hearten the author.

The '…fun to play…' bit sounds good.

Regards

David F Brown

Dexter Ward06 Oct 2014 2:24 a.m. PST

Khusrau wrote:
"The action phases involve drawing a number of dice from the bag with the side with the most dice drawn being the active player. "

so having a large number of units makes you more likely to go first? No thanks.
--------------------
Drawing more dice means you *place* your dice first which is not always an advantage, as the opponent can see what you've done and react to it.
Who actually goes goes first in a phase is determined by by the numbers on the dice low numbers act first.

The reviewer seems to have overlooked group moves, which allow you to move groups of up to 3 units as one, so long as they have a general attached to the middle unit. We refought the Sambre and Plataea using these rules, and the line was able to advance more or less as a block, so the rules allow for historical refights quite well

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Oct 2014 3:32 a.m. PST

Dice as the singular is wrong, no matter who accepts it. In a published source it is inexcusable.

Sobieski06 Oct 2014 3:44 a.m. PST

Hear, hear.

advocate06 Oct 2014 4:25 a.m. PST

I used to be hung up about things like this. But meanings change over time, and so does usage. I was particularly concerned about 'decimate', but now accept that it doesn't have to mean what it did originally. I'll even live with referendums.

The important thing is that it is a very interesting set of rules; I for one didn't find the terminology confusing, and even with some new concepts I pretty much had the rules sorted after my first game.

Dexter Ward06 Oct 2014 4:48 a.m. PST

Dice as a singular is not wrong according to the Oxford English Dictionary:

dice
Pronunciation: /dʌɪs /
NOUN (plural same)

1A small cube with each side having a different number of spots on it, ranging from one to six, thrown and used in gambling and other games involving chance. See also die2.

It may be wrong in American usage, but it's not wrong in British usage

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Oct 2014 6:13 a.m. PST

Dexter – read your own entry – it says PLURAL.

Also note the definition is actually wrong – dice do not all have 6 sides nor are they all (or even were they) marked with spots.
If you accept the definition comes from the cubic shape (as some seem to) and so excludes other shapes then we are all using it incorrectly anyway.

I'm a Brit and NEVER use American 'english'.

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP06 Oct 2014 6:42 a.m. PST

Tut, tut. Just roll the darn thing(s)! I have read these rules (but not played them) and they look like they will be fun to play.

Black Hat Miniatures06 Oct 2014 6:54 a.m. PST

@GF

Actually (Plural Same) means it is like sheep in that the same word is plural and singular.

The definition goes on:

Usage

Historically, dice is the plural of die, but in modern standard English dice is both the singular and the plural: throw the dice could mean a reference to either one or more than one dice.

Mike

Personal logo Bashytubits Supporting Member of TMP06 Oct 2014 7:32 a.m. PST

"The action phases involve drawing a number of dice from the bag with the side with the most dice drawn being the active player. "

so having a large number of units makes you more likely to go first? No thanks.

Each army has one color dice to represent its units. If one army has 17 units it would have seventeen dice in the bag. If the other side had 14 units it would have fourteen dice in the bag as well for a total of 31 dice for both sides. There are phases in the turn with only 7 dice being drawn. Since each side uses one color that is different from the opposing side, the side that has the most of its color drawn starts as the active side that phase. This continues until all the dice are pulled from the bag. Simply have a dice drawn does not guarantee activity from all units however, the quality and training of a unit affects this, all the dice pulled are rolled and units only move if the roll equals their quality. If it is enough higher bonus movement and abilities can be utilized. Both players get to place their dice on the units of their choice which gives overall the impression of both sides moving and reacting to each other. I think it is a rather simple yet elegant mechanism. So it is unfair to state that more units in your army gives you a guaranteed movement advantage. Smaller better trained(more experienced) forces do have an advantage. I have not yet played these but I have read through them and like what I see.

Marshal Mark06 Oct 2014 8:04 a.m. PST

Hi James

Thanks for the review. I appreciate you taking the time to write it, especially as it does cover a slightly different angle than some of the other reviews, focusing more on the actual content of the rulebook. And it's good to hear you are enjoying the rules.

I'll address some of the points you raise:

There is one error that occurs in several places in the rules. This is the use of the plural word "dice" when referring to a single die.

There's a bit of an atlantic divide here. As has been pointed out above, it is acceptable to use dice as singular in English. It seems like "die" is used as singular in US English, but here in England I think it would be unusual to hear "die" used.

In these cases and many other historical battles the advancing army moved as a whole formation instead of only part of the army moving and not in starts and stops.

My view, and this is reflected in the rules, is that it is difficult to move a body of thousands of men in unison. I believe that in reality the different bodies of men making up an army (sometimes differently equippped and trained and of different nationalities) would not all move in time at a uniform rate. To maintain a relatively straight battle line would require the line stopping and waiting for units to catch up. This is what happens in Sword & Spear. The units do not all move at the same time, but you can maintain a solid line. It might look disjointed during a turn, but you can normally keep a battle line by the end of the turn. And as pointed out above, group moves make this easier two commanders would enable a line of six units (which would normally be the main battle line) to move as two groups.

The following two photos are from two different games, both at the end of the second turn. You can see that battle lines have been maintained.

picture

Full AAR here:
link

picture

Full AAR here:
link

For extracts from and links to more reviews of these rules see my website here:
link

Mark

Zargon06 Oct 2014 8:44 a.m. PST

Lot of plonking factors going on here, I'm in the camp of too old to care, as in Tomato-tomato hah!
The main thing is I bought the rules, and by gosh I read them ' the whole way through' this is a rare occurrence indeed, I then went and got out a bunch of old 15mm DBM Feudal English and proceeded to dust them off (many years of dust too:) and built 2 forces of 350 pnts set up a 3x3 foot table, dragged out some terrain and here's the amazing thing I'm all set up to play..
Most incredible as I can count the last time I did this on two hands and was so enthusiastic.
I'm soloing the rules I'm playing it slow and getting my rusty old brain around them (surprisingly fun,easy and shock horror I'm enjoying myself with a set of rules that tick the boxes in my head for having a good fun time.)
Now I know there will be professional rule breakers out there who will push the destroy button on them you know the type, well guess what I'm not playing you so I'm happy and that's the most important thing to me.
So to all the rest enjoy a fun set of rules.
Cheers happy gaming and I'm off to pull a bunch of dice out of a bag and see what the gods of war have in store for my protagonists
Oh and thanks to Mark Lewis for a clear and easily readable set of rules I also cannot wait for the fantasy bolt on (I'll get to dust of my GW Beastmen next :)

Alcibiades06 Oct 2014 10:07 a.m. PST

I have played six face to face games and one solo game with these rules and must say I am delighted at both how much fun the rules are and how they play out. All seven battles were fought out with historical opponents and gave very good results. In my mind, these give a pretty darn good representation of ancient warfare. With the demise of DBM our group tried out a number of different rules sets that didn't really impress with the result that our ancients armies sat on their shelves collecting dust. Since discovering S&S, ancients is back in the rotation and is played more now than in a number of years.

Well done, Mark Lewis.

PS These rules work amazingly well for solo play. The dice activation system and the consequent limit on what can be done in a particular turn is very well suited for the solo general.

HANS GRUBER06 Oct 2014 10:25 a.m. PST

I agree with Alcibiates and Zargon. My appreciation for these rules increases with each game. Battles can be completed in a reasonable amount of time, with plausibly realistic results. In addition, it doesn't look like there are any killer armies, so everyone has a fair chance. Hopefully, rules lawyers and professional tournament types may not like these rules because games events are less controllable than they desire.

CptKremmen15 Oct 2014 6:32 a.m. PST

Rules – Very good, definitely my ancients set of choice and I have converted a lot of other players over to them

die-Dice – seriously who cares!

Having more units means you go 1st. As stated above that is an over simplification and remember the counter arguement. Having more units means your units are cheaper and less capable than your opponents.

The game seems to reward a balanced army best. Huge armies of rubbish are not that great. tiny elite armies are not that great. Balanced armies with a bit of everything do best.

kevanG15 Nov 2014 4:13 a.m. PST

I played my first game last night.

I will persevere but I was not greatly impressed. In fact I was quite disappointed as I had hoped these could be an additional alternative to impetus as they would suit that basing.

however, I was never keen on SCRUD methodology and there seems to be too much micro control of combat bonus and units.

Dexter Ward16 Nov 2014 9:36 a.m. PST

SCRUD?

kevanG17 Nov 2014 2:56 a.m. PST

SCRUD…aka… Simple combat resolution using dice.

I recall an article about it in a wargames magazine..Must be more than twenty years ago now. This is the first time I have seen it actually used in a rule set. It wasnt that good a system then and it never acheived any traction. It hasnt improved with age

HANS GRUBER17 Nov 2014 8:46 a.m. PST

I have played MANY different ancient wargaming systems over the last half century. I think the combat mechanism of Sword & Spear might be the best overall.

Dexter Ward17 Nov 2014 9:51 a.m. PST

It seems to work well enough in the game.
Still, we all have rules mechanisms which we hate; I can't stand games which use multiple different sizes of dice.
Other people love that mechanism.

kevanG17 Nov 2014 11:23 a.m. PST

I,ve played one game and seen that the 'command system' primary purpose seems to mimic a free choice of activations unrelated to commands and allows free choice for location of combat bonuses….

I do not see that as the primary features of ancient generalship nor is that something I would sum up as the primary influence in ancient combat.

Since that seems to be what the rules are built on, a dodgy command system and a poor combat resolution system lifted from a matrix game that was a minor elaboration of RISK's combat dice, I ain't seeing any reason for the love.

HANS GRUBER17 Nov 2014 12:34 p.m. PST

I,ve played one game and seen that the 'command system' primary purpose seems to mimic a free choice of activations unrelated to commands and allows free choice for location of combat bonuses….

I do not see that as the primary features of ancient generalship nor is that something I would sum up as the primary influence in ancient combat.

Since that seems to be what the rules are built on, a dodgy command system and a poor combat resolution system lifted from a matrix game that was a minor elaboration of RISK's combat dice, I ain't seeing any reason for the love.

Since you clearly don't like them ignore them and move on.

kevanG18 Nov 2014 4:00 a.m. PST

Sure, I doubt I'm the first

since you have played many games over the years, Do you have any recomendations for any other games using single large base impetus style basing that isnt impetus,sword and spear or hail caesar?

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