Classical Warfare

Classical-era ancient warfare is hard to get right; far harder, in my opinion, than any other wargaming period. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but it may be – I suppose – because ancient warfare is asymmetric in several dimensions.

The usual speed (cavalry) – strength (infantry) – firepower (missiles) triad doesn’t really reflect ancient warfare well. On the other hand, if one builds the game system up around the dominant unit of the period – infantry – one ends up with a situation where Hannibal’s cavalry is unable to create Cannae and the horse archer armies of the east are non-entities. Tip the scale too much the other way, and the Romans will conquer the world with cavalry (when they get it) rather than infantry. Determining the right mix of units is tough.

Another problem is the lopsided battles. Not only are the losses lopsided – typically 5% on the winning side versus 10-90% on the losing side – but the forces themselves were often lopsided. Even if the battle system is right; how does one account for Cannae or Pharsalus?

And even if you get something that handles most of these issues (for the set-piece battles), how does the system handle the original guerrilla? How do you build a system where Hannibal can lurk in Bruttium for 10 years; strong enough to make the Romans be afraid of attacking him, but so weak that he can’t march on Rome?

I’ve played most ancient games, and apart from a few board games (that generally handle the problem by limiting the “army systems” and conflicts), I’ve yet to see a game that manages to capture the essential elements: command, force, set-piece conflict, skirmish, and terrain. Perhaps it is simply not possible; we are after all, dealing with events and accounts lost in the distant past. However, having been silly enough to try and create a game whose scope encompasses the entire ancient world, I will have to try to do so in Imperium. Assuming I get time over the next couple of weeks, I’ll try to post somewhat on the elements that make up the warfare component in Imperium. Comments, suggestion, and discussion are as always welcome (use the forum).