Playing with history

Tomorrow, the Karwansaray team will be heading to Belgium to attend this year’s Crisis at Antwerp. Crisis is an international fair all about miniature wargames. It will be the first time that I visit a fair like this, so I am looking forward to seeing what goes on. Of course, it also affords me the chance to actually meet in person Guy Bowers, the editor of Wargames: Soldiers & Strategy, our wargaming magazine.

I don’t have a lot of experience with miniatures wargames. I do, however, own a few games with rules, simply because I like to study systems that people use to simulate ancient battles. For example, I have earlier written some blog posts that examined representations of ancient warfare in historical computer strategy games (first partsecond partthird part).

The books that I have include some of the usual suspects. I have the revised edition of Warhammer Ancient Battles, as well as the newer second edition. The rules seem fairly straightforward to me, but there is a considerable amount of detail. From accounts of actual players, I understand that it is especially useful when trying to simulate smaller skirmishes, rather than large-scale battles (but feel free to correct me). It is a pity that Games Workshop has discontinued Ancient Battles.

I also have a copy of Field of Glory, plus a number of the supplements that I found interesting (all ancient, of course). It seems more complex and more fiddly to me than Warhammer (again, feel free to correct this), and I am slightly disappointed that most (all?) of the artwork are reused from Osprey books. Still, the formatting is nice, and the way that the chapters are colour-coded means that it is relatively easy to look something up if the need arises.

I also own a few lesser known books, such as Classical Hack and the rethemed version, Homeric Hack. These books are not as nicely formatted as either Warhammer or Field of Glory, but the systems seem relatively simple and straightforward, and Homeric Hack seems to allow an okay reconstruction of Homeric-style battles.

To go off on a little bit of a tangent, I also have a copy of Agon, a competitive roleplaying game developed by James Harper. Again, never played for lack of friends who actually enjoy playing tabletop games, but it seems to do a good job of letting people roleplay ancient Greek heroes, and has a very neat combat system that uses a simple track with pawns or miniatures for positioning. If you are more interested in roleplaying rather than out-and-out wargaming, I think you should probably give this a look.

I have a little more experience when it comes to boardgames. In some cases, the theme is a little superficial. This is especially true for games designed by Reiner Knizia. An exception is his Euphrates and Tigris, which actually does give an idea of how ancient cities in Mesopotamia could have developed.

More accessible is Hasbro’s Risk Godstorm, which is basically Risk, except that the factions each represent an ancient culture and there are special figurines that represent four of the major gods of each pantheon. There is also a smaller board that represents the underworld, and some of the rules of regular Risk are changed. Another take on a Risk-like game, but much better, is Conquest of the Empire: the gigantic board – too big for my own dinner table! – gives a good idea of the vast expanse of the Roman Empire, and fiddling around with plastic legionaries, warships, and catapults never gets old.

I will post my thoughts on Crisis next Monday, right here on the editor’s blog. In the meantime, what kind of games tickle your fancy? Are there any games out there that you think do a good job of simulating ancient history, or at least give the idea that the theme is not simply tacked on? Post a comment below and let me know.

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