To me, hoplite warfare seems to be tricky to convert to a game. The clash of phalanx upon phalanx can lead to some boring engagements, and games that focus on a broad sweep of ancient history naturally tend not to give this problem too much thought. Men of Bronze is one of two games that have been released very recently, Mortal Gods being the other, designed with this period in mind. Hopefully one of them, at least, will give us a good game for hoplite warfare.
Overview - the book.
Men of Bronze is a 64 page book. After a few pages covering ‘first principles’, ie what you need to play, basing, measuring, rounding etc, 4 pages are dedicated to a brief history of the warfare and soldiers involved.
The core rules take up the next 17 pages or so, with a further 4 with advanced and special rules.
The 13 unit types are then described, followed by 9 lines of battle, or army lists, and 7 sample armies.
The book finishes with 5 pre-generated scenarios, rules for complications that further modify the scenarios, and 7 historical scenarios.
Overview - the game
Each player controls an army comprising a number of units. The scenarios in the book have armies of between 4 and 8 units in size, with 5 or 6 being more common. The ‘Lines of Battle’ section gives lists for various nations so that you can create your own forces to whatever point limit and number of units you choose.
The size of a unit is not set in stone, use whatever suits or whatever you have to hand. The author suggests ten figures per unit, and the photographs throughout the book use this standard, with individually based figures. It would be possible to use figures based on elements, but you would need some way to show whether they are in open order or phalanx formation, such as having two elements per unit.
Another consideration for players using multi-based figures is the movement rules. The game uses base width (BW) as the standard for measurements in the game, and it is implied but nowhere stated (as far as I can tell) that the base width is that of a single figure rather than the whole unit. A base of 4 15mm figures on a 40mm element would have a base width of 10mm.
Each unit has a leader, from which most measurements and lines of sight originate. The author has taken the decision to place the leader at the centre-front of each unit rather than the historical front-right. This is probably sensible in the context of a game, but I’m sure I will try it the other way at some point to see if it makes a difference.
Players decide who goes first by bidding a number of Arete Points (AP). These seem to be quite central to the game and function a bit differently to the activation points in Dux Bellorum. Each player calculates the number of available AP each turn, based on the number of units they have.
The player with initiative can start activating units to either move, fight or shoot. At any time after the first unit has been activated, the opposing player may attempt to steal the initiative for 1AP. This process continues until both players have activated all their units, even if some units have been activated to do nothing.
AP can also be used the get a unit to charge (a double move that allows a unit to both move and fight), to rally, to use a special rule, or to re-roll one dice. No AP are carried over at the end of a turn, so use them or lose them. Timing the use of AP seems the be an important part of the game.
Units generally move in Open Order. Some types of unit have the special rule “Phalanx”, which allows them to form into a phalanx at the cost of 1AP. While in phalanx formation a unit may only move straight ahead in open terrain. Advanced rules cover phalanxes drifting to the right, and also allow for drilled phalanxes to move sideways or backwards.
One of the rules influenced by Dan Mersey’s Lion Rampant rules (and similar sets by that author) is the zone of control. Although toned down from the similar rule in Lion Rampant, I still see this as being a contentious rule among players, which some will no doubt opt to ignore.
The rule states that no unit, friend or foe, may come within 1BW of another unit without either stopping or engaging in melee.
Personally, I like the rule in Lion Rampant. It makes you think carefully how you position your units and presents some interesting tactical choices. The zone of control in the rule here is smaller than the 3” in Lion Rampant, but one possible problem I see is that it would prevent your phalanxes from forming a continuous line. This could be an aesthetic concern only, and may not turn out to be a problem once the game has been played, we’ll see.
Terrain falls into 4 categories: Open, Difficult, Dangerous and Impassable. These present the usual concerns for troops moving through them, with the added wrinkle that dangerous terrain may cause a unit to lose a point of Courage, which is used as as an indication of how close to routing a unit is. You could lose a unit to the terrain!
So how do we kill each other? That’s what the game is all about surely? Again, there are similarities with Lion Rampant here, but more than enough changes to provide a different experience.
Units in contact are lined up front to front, if they were not so already. Units capable of supporting the melee may then be moved directly behind the fighting unit, if the player chooses. These will provide a bonus in combat and suffer the fate of the unit they are supporting. Moving units as drastically as this during a game may be quite jarring; a unit to the side of a fighting unit could move a considerable distance to line up behind like this.
Units in combat each roll a number of d6 equal to their Attack score, modified if they are in Phalanx Formation, Charging, in support, or flanking.
Scores of 4+ are counted and compared to the defending unit’s armour (in a similar way to Lion Rampant), with hits being removed from the defending unit’s Courage. Both players’ units fight simultaneously.
Units whose courage is reduced to 2 points (and again at 1 point) make discipline checks, needing to score more successes than the number of points of Courage lost in the previous melee, with failure causing the unit to receive the status of Wavering. When Courage reaches 0, a unit routs. At this point, it is simply turned around. They will be removed during the End Phase.
Finally, a surviving, losing unit is pushed back: the famed Othismos of phalanx on phalanx action! The winning unit may follow up, remain in place or retreat and regroup.
Shooting follows a similar pattern to melee.
The End Phase
During the end phase, all AP are discarded, armies check for Morale and Collapse, and unit alignments are checked.
Morale is represented by a discipline check by a unit whose leader is in sight of a unit that routs.
Collapse checks come at certain trigger points relating to losses. All units must make discipline checks, immediately routing if they fail.
You then ‘Finalise Unit Alignments’, by reviewing all ongoing melees to ensure they are in proper formations. Without having played the game, I don’t see how often this will be needed. Also, routing units are now removed.
After checking for victory conditions, the turn is over.
Advanced and Special Rules
There are 4 advanced rules that add a bit more period flavour to the game. They cover the loss of leaders, phalanx drift, firing over friendly units and pursuing routed enemies. All are simple mechanisms that could easily be included in your first game.
There are 7 special rules. These are rules that apply to certain units and will be listed in the stat block for those units. These are: Phalanx, Drilled, Counter-charge, Pursue, Evade, Move and Shoot, and Skirmisher.
Of interest to me is the Pursue special rule, as it represents the Ekdromoi, or light hoplites that were used to chase off skirmishers. This is only the second set of rules that I’ve seen include these troops, and is one of the reasons that I think this game might have the necessary period flavour that I’m looking for.
Units and Lines of Battle
As previously mentioned, the game includes 13 types of unit.
Melee Infantry includes Elite Hoplites, Drilled Hoplites, Militia Hoplites, Light Hoplites, Macedonian Phalanx, Elite Infantry, Drilled Infantry, and Warband Infantry. Not nearly as many types of Hoplite as the game Hoplomachia, but more than enough, I’m sure!
Missile Infantry includes Psiloi, Peltast, and Archer/Slinger. I like using plenty of light troops in my Ancient Greek battles and feel that historically they were used in greater numbers than many rules allow. It will be interesting to see how these three differ and how to best use them.
Cavalry includes Cavalry and Heavy Cavalry. Finding the right use for these will also be an interesting challenge.
The Lines of Battle section provides army lists for Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth/Argos, Greek City States, Greek Mercenaries, Persians, Barbarian Tribes and Philip of Macedon. The Barbarian Tribes appears to represent Thracians and other fringe ‘states’.
To return to my preference for large numbers of light troops, I am reassured to see that most Greek armies allow for around 3 units of lights. The sample armies list a ratio of around 2 units of lights to 3 of hoplites , which seems reasonable enough. Of course, all of the Greek lists allow for any number of certain types of hoplite units, so if you’re making your own forces, so you can of course make it how you like it.
Here we have the 5 scenarios, which provide enough variety to prevent each game being a ‘line up and have at it’ type battle that otherwise might be all too common, apart from the first, which is just that. The usual deployment areas, scenario set-up, special rules (relating to relative sizes of the antagonists) and victory conditions are all present.
There then follows a table of Complications that can be applied to a scenario. A 2d6 roll will provide a little twist to the game, such as bad omens, dawn attacks, hungry and thirsty troops, a herd of goats and more. I must source those goat figures!
Here also are the 7 historical scenarios. The battles covered are Marathon, Thermopylae, Plataea, Sphacteria, Leuctra, Cunaxa and Chaeronea.
Interestingly the author hasn’t been tempted to make these games huge in terms of the number of units, which makes them accessible to players with fewer figures. The largest army is that of the Persians at Thermopylae, with 8 units to the Greeks’ 4 units. The smallest army is the 2 unit army of Spartans at Sphacteria vs the Athenians with 5 units.
Well, I’ve waffled on a bit more than I planned and I don’t really know how to best sum it all up.
Hopefully it will help you decide whether it’s the sort of game that will appeal to you, but in the end it’s only when a game is played that all the little nuances and intricacies can be appreciated.
I’m certainly looking forward to getting it to the table.