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Why I like Warhammer Ancient Battles

February 7, 2007 2:09 PM - Posted by Robartes - Category: Rulesets

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.

Figure scale

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’.

It’s oodles of fun

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)!

Comments on this entry

Bart On the nail - especially the last part, WAB is just a good game of soldiers and all the better for it. It’s just a bit of a b****r when one has to provide all the armies in a supplement oneself, and in some ways I would like to see a little reverse engineering to amend some of the earlier supplements in the light of some of the new rules introduced in later supplements in order to play just a little out of period without being trampled by superior *****s at every turn.

All that said while I am tempted by Arthur I have too many other projects to go with it - not only do you end up with a buy buy buy cycle but it ends up with excluding everything else including real life. G

February 8, 2007 2:05 PM - Posted by Graham K

I have heard and joined in maligning GW for all the reasons you’ve listed. I loathe their price increases and every new release of their 40K rules dissapoints me more and more. However, they have my respect because they found the winning forumula and they were the first to exploit it to the fullest and that is pure genius in my eyes. I spent the early 80’s playing D&D and became fixated with the miniatures. I was in the Army in 1990 and after a long deployment I returned with more cash than I’d ever had when I came across Rogue Trader and their line of plastic box sets. If it weren’t for them I would have probably never started wargaming so, like many I owe it all to them. I threw myself into painting 40K figures and the first large group of gamers I met were aggressively competetive with 40K and I lost sight of the pleasure aspect of the game. I switched to fantasy and had the same results. A wise and very patient member of our group had an evil plan in mind because he had a similar distaste for the GW systems and he introduced me to DBM, Fire and Fury, etc. and the simplicity of historicals, and lack of Vortex Grenades, became my passion. Over the last year I’ve lived in the sticks of East Texas and I’ve rounded up a respectable group of folks which all began with WH40K gaming. As the many obvious flaws of 40K became apparent I snuck in WHFB and eventually I introduced them to Historical gaming. I started small with Warhammers Old West rules and it was a SMASH hit. Then I picked up WAB and shield wall and I was pleased that so many were thrilled by it. Now we have folks building imperial romans, vikings, saxons, Gauls, and thanks to the strategic loan of Bernard Cornwells Arthur and Saxon series there is a wad of Gripping Beast miniatures being painted up. I really think the GW folks redeemed themselves by publishing slick rules and supplements into a world heretofore dominated by folded xerox rule sets. More importantly GW acknowledged other figures manufacturers in the WAB books (which just happen to be mostly owned by former and current GW figure designers!!) The two guys who started it all are retired millionaires in Spain somewhere and they owe it all to wargaming. How many mothers have told their sons that they were wasting their time with their “toys”? GW reached the dream and I am for one happy for them. I say all this grudgingly because I’m no fan-boy and their 40K rules sicken me. Still, cheers to them.

February 10, 2007 7:06 AM - Posted by James Peacock

Hi Bart

As you can probably anticipate, I don’t really agree with you about DBM. I think that played in the right spirit, ie with historically matched armies that it gives excellent results. I think that the cheesier moves should just be avoided by mutual consent and you also need to agree not to be too picky about measuring to the last millimetre.

What about WHAB? Well, it’s quite a fun game. I think it is also played with lists and points and people seem attracted to building super armies. Not you (or I, with my Saxons) of course (he wrote self righteously.

I think this probably comes down to the player rather than the game system. I have played a few games of Flames of War recently, an excellent system with lots of books with army lists and… points systems. All you need for an evening’s competitive or cheesy gaming. Alternatively, you can play using scenarios, randomly chosen armies and get free of the lists.

But a final point, and one that brings out the dark side in me. I think there is actually quite a lot of fun in devising your list, scheming to get the perfect army.


February 12, 2007 9:29 PM - Posted by Alan

Hi Alan,

yes - I thought you would have a different opinion on DBM :) As you say, it’s more up to the gamer than the game, as any game can be (ab)used for a certain type of gaming. It’s just that the general culture around WAB is more leaning towards my kind of gaming, while the DBx culture is leaning more towards the other kind.

Great to hear from you again - what army are you using for FoW (that’s a barely concealed hint for you to write a post about it, BTW :) ).

February 13, 2007 9:15 AM - Posted by Robartes

Hi Bart

Just back from a few days in Istanbul, which was quite something. Not to mention inspiring in terms of wargames armies.

For FOW, I’ll write up a piece for the site.


February 22, 2007 7:40 PM - Posted by Alan