I can’t hide it anymore - I like Warhammer Ancient Battles. Yes, its name starts with Warhammer, and yes, it comes from what many think of as the Evil Empire (capitalisation intentional) of miniature wargaming, but I think it’s exactly the right ruleset to play ancients with for me. Let me explain why.
Way back when, I used to play DBM. Even though I became moderately good at it, and still have a large amount of 15mm Ancients figures collected with DBM in mind, I could never escape a certain feeling of unease at it (read more here). Was it the ‘equal points and line up’ attitude, the fact that armies from a time span of well over twenty centuries were supposed to fight each other (although that’s a general ancients period thing, not strictly DBM), the competitive streak DBM seems to bring out in a certain type of gamer (yes, I have participated in competitions too), I do not know. Whatever it was, I think it is telling that the period I was heavily involved in DBM was that in which the Schild en Vriend crowd was in hibernation in various parts of the world - I just haven’t figured out quite what it is telling me though :)
All that changed with the arrival of WAB. It took me a while to play it, for various reasons, but I liked what I saw when I did. For the rest of this entry, I’ll list some of the reasons why I like the ruleset.
Of course, as with any ruleset including DBM, WAB can be played with any scale of figures you want, but the prevailing culture in WAB land is to play with 28mm figures, the One True Scale. While other scales can provide a more realistic look of massed armies (6mm comes to mind, with its collection of evangelists) or better tradeoff between cost and visual appeal (15mm), the King of scales for me remains 28mm. There’s a particular appeal to having a bunch of 28mils on the table that I find particularly attractive. 15mm and lower does not do the same for me. And if you like the painting side of the hobby, 28mils are more satisfying as well.
Ah, supplements - a touchy subject. One of the reasons GW is maligned in certain corners is its rampant ‘supplementitis’. There’s a supplement for every army, and they’re usually updated every few years, locking you into a buy-buy-buy circle just to stay up to date. WAB also has supplements for various periods. The basic rulebook gives you just some stats for Romans and ‘Barbarians’ (Celts for the rest of us), plus a few armies that used to be in Armies of Antiquity but are not (yet) covered by their own supplement. Other than that, there’s the supplements.
WAB supplements tend to be organised along periods: there’s a supplement for chariot age (middle eastern bronze age) warfare, one on the Byzantine period, one on the Late Roman period, etc. Each supplement, though later more than earlier, has lots of interesting information in addition to the army lists for the various armies represented: bits on the history of the period (albeit in severely potted form), collecting and painting appropriate figures, wargaming tactics and usually some scenarios and other things. The latest supplement, Age of Arthur, is particularly good in this regard (though that’s for another post).
Nothing new so far, but the real refreshing thing with these supplements is the fact that the armies in them are intended to be balanced only against each other. Disadvantages of points systems aside (yet another post, there), you can expect an X point army from supplement A to be more or less evenly matched against another X point army from supplement A but not against an X point army from supplement B. This, combined with the period focus of the supplements results in a wargame culture where, instead of Bronze Age Egyptians taking the field against Later Burgundian Ordonnance lobsters, focus is on in period gaming, something that can only be applauded IMO.
As compared to the majority of rules publications on ‘our side’ of the hobby, the production quality of the books is just stunning, with good printing, good layout and stunning photographs (wargamer’s porn) abound. Granted, not everyone has the same amount of financial oomph as GW, but when even a single person such as Pete Jones can produce good quality rulebooks (Blitzkrieg and Cold War Commander), the monochrome, dense type, not an illustration in sight type of publication is a real let down for a bunch of wargamers for whom ‘Visual Appeal is Everything’.
The main reason I like WAB however, is that it’s quite simply a good game of toy soldiers. Face it, we’re only pretending to recreate history through simulated engagements on the table top or studying models of nation state interactions in times of crisis. In reality, we’re all just boys (and girls) playing with our toy soldiers again. And that’s just what WAB provides: a game of toy soldiers with an historical flavour.
Right, that’s it - comments are open (although the commenter going by the nom de plume of wet thong is asked to kindly refrain from commenting)!