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Homunculi est

If you have listened to the WSS podcast you might well have heard my shoegazing about developing some 2mm Ancients rules for the Romans and I made from scratch a couple of years back. I have a notebook where I jot down ideas for rules, and so far I have penned four different versions and tried them out. Unfortunately each time something hasn’t quite been right. Getting the balance between ‘realism’ (if that is even a possibility in wargames rules?) and gameplay, can be challenging. Providing sufficient command decisions for players needs to balance out with considering how much control a Roman or Gallic general might reasonably exert over 30-60,000 men on a confused battlefield!

A week or two ago it was rather pleasant to have a few hours in the garden to try out a completely new version of the rules, and for once feel like it was going in the right direction and not just another page to be thrown in the recycling bin! They are currently going under the name of ‘Homunculi est’. This translates something like “You are little men”. I thought it seemed apt for the 2mm figures somehow! My Latin was dropped when I was 13, so I’m happy for a more fluent Latin writer to correct my title!

The aim of the rules is to provide a quick battle resolution game for campaigns that do not get too bogged down in the minute details and remains focussed on the macro level. The game works on a grid system for movement. This speeds up movement and measuring. In this time of social distancing it will also make digital playtesting a bit easier. I’ve been suitably impressed and influenced by the series of Peter Pig games by Martin Goddard like Square Bashing, and To the Strongest by Simon Miller.

Each of the units in the game represents between several thousand troops depending on unit type. Most of the Roman units are singly based with an entire legion on each base! The Gauls - in this case, the Helvetti and their allied tribes are mostly on warband bases, representing about 10,000 warriors!

The turn sequence jumps between the two armies once one army fails to make a successful action. This system has been pinched from Arty Conliffe’s Crossfire rules and Jervis Johnson’s Bloodbowl. This forces the commander of each side to think carefully about their sequence of moves and prioritise what needs to happen first. Effective command will, therefore, require a methodical and cool head.

I think I’ve got the basic orders, movement and combat rules sorted. The next stage is trying to deal with a few grey areas with movement, game balance and adding period flavour. The game is intended for small tables and this test was played out on a 75cm square garden table and still felt epic. Rather predictably the Romans won in a headlong fight. The veteran 10th Legion massacred the tribesmen in front of them and rolled up the Helvetti left flank before savagely butchering the enemy baggage area! For the first time, I came away feeling like the basic game played how I wanted it. I’m intrigued how the Romans will get on in a bigger battlefield with slightly fewer veteran legions and more newly raised replacements. Doubtless, after the next few games, I’ll come out with a list of problems that need fixing. The next stage after that will be sending the rules to a few mates in different countries to playtest it to death and pick out all the faults with it.

12 thoughts on “Homunculi est”

  • Paul Wisken

    Small scale/large scale gaming at its best!

    • Mark Backhouse
      Mark Backhouse May 22, 2020 at 6:29 pm

      Many thanks Paul. It looks good, but I’ve got to get the rules a bit more polished yet!

  • Chris King

    Hello, Mark - whereabouts did you get these figures from, please? - I think these may be the sort of minis I'm looking to get into...

    • Mark Backhouse
      Mark Backhouse May 27, 2020 at 11:48 pm

      Hi Chris,
      They are all scratch built. You can see how to do this in WSS93 where I have written an article on the technique I used.

  • Aron Clark

    Great stuff Mark. Do you have a blog where we can follow along as this shapes up?

    Chris - my read was that these were scratch built.

    • Mark Backhouse
      Mark Backhouse May 27, 2020 at 11:46 pm

      Hi Chris and Aron,
      Yes they are scratch built from greenstuff. I’ve written an article about how to make them that appeared in WSS 93.
      I don’t have a blog I’m afraid, everything I produce will probably appear here or in the magazine! If you want to follow my day to day painting and builds I tend to put things on Twitter under @markbackhouse29 or on the WSS instagram feed.

  • John Edward Isles
    John Edward Isles May 27, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    "Homunculi est" means "He is little men". I think you want "Homunculi estis".

  • Jim Jackaman

    That looks epic (quite literally). I like the idea behind this a lot and your homemade armies are a very clever and visually effective approach. Excellent!

    • Mark Backhouse
      Mark Backhouse May 27, 2020 at 11:50 pm

      Thanks Jim,
      I certainly hope they produce a very different visual experience to most ancient wargames.

  • John Mumby

    Hey Mark,
    I would like to volunteer to look over and playtest your rules. I have worked with Martin and Simon on their rules along with 8 or 9 other rule writers. I live in Denver, Colorado, USA. My friend, Terry, and I have been playtesting rules since the middle 1990s. We would be glad to help. I have a few samples of Peter Dennis's 1mm Napoleonics, Irregular 2mm, and Pico Armor 3mm. Your armies are great looking!

    • Mark Backhouse
      Mark Backhouse May 28, 2020 at 10:02 pm

      Thanks John,
      That’s a very kind offer. I’m typing out the next page of scribbled notes tonight. When it’s looking a bit more rounded I’ll try to send it around and be prepared for a brutal volley of corrections and suggestions!

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