A Classical Theme!

Not too long ago my long-standing wargames opponent, John, told me he was going to start a new project.  He’s way better than me at sticking with projects to completion, although he still likes to come back to older projects from time to time and add new units and figures.

Anyway, his new project is going to be wargaming the Punic Wars in 15mm scale (Rome versus Carthage)!  I was quite surprised at this, since I didn’t recall him really talking about ancient wargaming before (and before anyone makes a comment, that’s people wargaming the ancient period, not ancient people playing wargames).  But the biggest surprise was when he said he was going to re-base and tart up his 25mm Greeks and Persians so that we could have a game to test out the rules – in the 26 years I’ve known John, I’d never even seen these figures, let alone heard them mentioned (it turns out he bought them ready-painted at a wargames show a long time ago)!

So, the plan was for John to set up the forces on his wargames table, with me commanding one of the two sides from the comfort of my own home via e-mail (in these days of self-isolation and lock-down in the UK).  To get us started, John had re-based, tidied up and added some extra figures to his Greek forces, so that I commanded a Spartan forces against his Athenian army.  The rules he’s trying out are the readily available “Hail Caesar” ancient wargames set from Warlord Games.

Now as far as tactics go, I’m worse than hopeless with anything involving a mixture of close-combat troops, ranged weapons and cavalry, but I thought I’d give it a go – the worst that could happen would be that I’d lose the game without having shown up for it in the first place!

So I got a Spartan division consisting of two hoplite (heavy infantry) units, supported by a unit of light infantry and a unit of archers.  These were supported by an allied division of the same composition, although with slingers instead of archers.  The Athenian opposition was similar in composition, although the Athenian allied division had a light cavalry unit as one of its supporting units.  For simplicity, and to give the rules a good test, the battlefield was relatively uncluttered, with just a low hill and rocky outcrop breaking up the field of combat.



I opted to have the Spartan division on my left and their allies on the right.  Spartan archers covered the left flank with light troops out in front.  Since the enemy had deployed cavalry on their left, I put my allied light troops and slingers on my right to protect it from being flanked.  Initial orders were for my Spartans to steadily advance and wait and see what the enemy did before I decided on a further course of action.  What follows is essentially John’s commentary on the game, as it was reported to me by e-mail to allow me to plan my further orders (but there is a good chance I might have got the photos in the wrong order)!

Move 1


The Spartans cautiously advance as their allies adopt a holding position (Spartans bottom left in the picture above).  Across the plain the Athenians deploy, their own troops to your left covered by skirmishers.  The Athenian allies on your right seem to move forward slightly then hesitate and stop.  So far this mirrors Spartan movement (not that this was what the Athenian general was aiming at!).


Move 2

The Spartan left advances as ordered, as do their allies on the right wing.  The Athenians facing the Spartans advance at the double, with their supporting light troops engaging the Spartan lights, but with minimal casualties.  The Athenian allies finally move forwards, albeit slowly.  The Athenian allied cavalry however look somewhat reluctant and haven’t moved despite the shouts from their commander drifting across the battlefield.


Move 3

On the Spartan turn both units charged at the Athenian line eagerly, scattering the skirmishers who evaded behind the hoplites.  The Spartans crashed into the Athenian line which took the worst of the fighting but held.  On the Spartan right flank the allies advanced at the triple, over the hill towards the Athenian allies, peppering the line with missile fire.  The Athenian allies responded to the Spartan ally advance by charging the closest hoplites, who were overwhelmed and broke.



On the Spartan left the Spartan hoplites are getting the better of the Athenians, but the Athenians held again despite mounting casualties.  The two mercenary archer units meanwhile exchanged fire in the rocky terrain to little effect.  On the extreme right the cavalry are still sitting contemplating life.  At this point, the Spartans are an allied hoplite unit down on the right but winning the melee on the left.

Move 4

In the Spartan move the Spartan left inflicts further casualties on the Athenians who are shaken. The Spartan allies however do not pull back as ordered but hold their ground.  The Athenian allies charge the remaining Spartan allied hoplite unit which against the odds holds out. The Athenian cavalry also finally advance.


Things do not go well for the Athenians facing the Spartans. The far left unit next to the rocky outcrop routs, taking with it the supporting archers.  The other Spartan unit of hoplites, supported by the peltasts (light infantry) behind, inflict further casualties on the remaining shaken Athenian hoplites who are barely hanging on. Advantage Sparta!

Move 5

The well-drilled Spartans on the left wheel smartly and charge the wavering Athenians. The Athenians take massive casualties and rout, the entire division fleeing for their lives. The victorious Spartans straighten the line and advance on the Athenian allies.  On the other flank the Spartan allies are struggling but holding on, the slingers on the hill driving off the advancing cavalry.


The Athenian allies in a last ditch effort hurl themselves at the battered Spartan allied phalanx, which finally crumbles, taking with it the entire division and the Spartan peltasts.  The victorious Athenian allies swing round and on to the hill to face the advancing Spartan troops.  Advantage still Sparta with two pretty healthy elite units against the tired Athenian allies.


Move 6

The Spartan hoplites charge the Athenian allies and sweep them away. The broken Athenians flee the field, covered by their cavalry.  A hard-fought, but total, Spartan victory!


So, that means I won without even turning up to the game!  Brilliant!  To be fair, I think John probably turned my orders into something more useful for the Spartans and maybe luck just kept me going.  It was good for me, because I had to still think about the orders to give to my troops.  John enjoyed it because he got to try out the rules against troops commanded by someone else.  It also meant we kept in touch and managed to have a virtual wargame!  I’m led to believe its Greeks versus Persian next, so I maybe need to brush up on my history!


  1. That looks a very interesting game John, i should imagine you have to be closer to combat as the weapons vary from bows to spears to swords and all have their limit. From the discription of the battle it sounds like most battles are fought the same way, its about outflanking and outmanouvering each other and then sending in something bigger or stronger, but i am no general. Have fun and stay safe, unlike around here, lockdown, what lockdown..

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Steve! 🙂 I think, like a lot of things, it’s about timing as well as the factors you’ve listed above! The other danger in pre-gunpowder games is the close proximity of units – you get support from your mates being close. but if they panic and run you think maybe you should do the same! But I enjoyed it! Lockdown here, locally at least, seems to be being adhered to, but there will always be selfish people thinking only of themselves!

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Looks like fun and I’m glad you and your friend John of Athens were able to have a fun, long-distance game, which sounds like great fun, and do it in such a creative way as well.

    I remember years ago, when I took some Ancient History classes, hearing the Peloponnesian Wars characterized as the Elephant vs. the Whale with the expectation that the Athenians and their allies would be the kings of the sea and the Spartans and their allies the lands of the land. Then we’d read about what happened and I found it interesting how often what you would expect didn’t happen and how the Athenians did a lot better on land that was expected and the Spartans did better than was expected at sea.

    In any case, I’m glad you were able to chalk one up to the Spartans! If your friend or you have some galleys you should do some of the naval battles of that period as well. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Ann! 🙂 It was good fun, although it wasn’t me that had to do the hard work! I’d never heard about the Elephant versus the Whale before, which is quite a good way of putting things. I think my classical history has been a bit neglected, so I maybe need to brush up on it a bit – naval battles with galleys sounds far too tempting to me as well!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes, fun is always more fun when it isn’t you having to do the work. I find that to be the case myself! That Ancient History class was the first time I’d heard that analogy and I thought to myself, “Wow she’s a genius! What a great way to put it.” Then I heard it again applied a year later in a survey class where we sprinted our way through Napoleon’s career, and then again in yet another class where we did more sprinting through yet other periods of history. I agree, it is a great way of putting it. I often truck that out at parties and such when I wish to appear smarter than I am and say something that sounds perspecacious. 🙂

        I haven’t had a chance to play many battles between galleys (two that I can remember and one of them was at a small game convention in Maine back in the ’70’s) but I remember them as being great fun. If you aren’t careful though, they do have a tendency to turn into “land” battles in the latter stages, what with the ships ramming each other and boarding and so on; especially if you are playing a faction in a battle where one side’s strategy was basically to do that.

        I do have to say that a galley fight would be a good game to run by email. I could see how email games could simulate the fog of war and the inertia of ancient naval warfare. Ditto with games set in the Age of Sail. Wish I had the miniatures for such an undertaking.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Heh, well, John, if you have to choose factions, all things being equal, if the scenario includes Romans you probably won’t go wrong taking them. 🙂

            There is still plenty of shooting though too, depending on the battle and the rules, from what I’ve seen. In addition to such things as showers of stones, javelins and arrows as the ships near each other, there are catapults, fire, and such to be considered as well.

            I wonder if anyone who knows a lot about this would suggest a rule set that combines interest and ease of play?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Naval wargames are tricky things and it can be difficult to not get bogged down in detail! Maybe the answer is to have fewer ships and edge more towards a skirmish style of game, where you can trade numbers of combatants against detail.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, you are probably right. I did a little poking around and I don’t know much about it, but I did see a ruleset called “Roman Seas” that uses a hex-grid map, which might make running it be a lot smoother; especially for a long distance game.

            Wouldn’t it be fun to have some sort of crazy email fight where there are like six players and each turn say takes 3 days, and if you don’t post within that period the GM would simply have your ships attack the nearest adversary or even better, roll on some sort of table to see what they do?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Sounds like you’re a bad influence on yourself, Ann! 🙂 I agree with you about the game using hexmaps – much easier to use. 15mm might be a bit on the large side for galleys, but I think you can get them in 6mm/1:300 and 1:600 or just use deck plan markers!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Hahaha … I think you are right about 6mm and I should probably just make markers if I’m going to do it and not spend a bunch of money on miniatures that probably won’t get much use, though it might make for a good game to run a conventions.

            Liked by 1 person

          • also, I bet you could do something like that with those Italian coastal ships if you wanted. If so, sign me up if you are looking for email players! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Sorry, Ann, only just spotted your comment! Unfortunately, I can’t leave a game up and running since I don’t have the space. But I think hex boards and counters/markers would work! I’ll keep you in mind if I make any progress! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ah, too bad. I’ll only have space for a game myself if I clean up my hobby room. I’ve been looking at various galley rules and such, and think that hexes are definitely the way to go for a game that isn’t in-person. Also, I think that games where you are playing the admiral and not the captain of a ship might be better as well so there isn’t any bookkeeping. I’ve noticed some rules ets have a fair amount of stuff to keep track of for individual ships, which I think it would be best to avoid. I’m sort of thinking that the preferred rules should be no more complicated than a Command & Colors game.

            Interestingly, I put out a blanket email to my historically-oriented local gamer friends and one of them offered me a bunch of galley miniatures that he says have been gathering dust and he has no plans for them. Awfully nice of him, I thought.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Sounds sensible, although I’m not familiar with Command & Colors. 🙂 I’d have thought Uncharted Seas might be more to your liking as a setting, since it’s essentially fantasy naval wargames. Used to be a Spartan Game product but they folded and I’m not sure if anyone picked it up. You could maybe add a galley game into D&D campaign as a mini campaign or quest, you’ll know whether that’s an option better than me. I’m going to keep hexgames in mind while I get on with my other stuff I think!

            Liked by 1 person

          • I’ve heard of Uncharted Seas but have never played it. I’ll have to give it a look. I’m not particularly hooked on Fantasy or SciFi over Historical, but most of the people I enjoy gaming with are mostly into 40K and fantasy type games, so I figure there isn’t much point in pushing games too hard where people aren’t interested.

            But that said, I’m open to any rule set that seems like it would be not too hard to pick up and run, and would make for a fun game.

            Having some sort of system for fighting out galley battles is a good idea. If I were going to do something like that I’d probably just abstract it down to a few die rolls because I know my current players wouldn’t have any interest in playing it out and instead would want to concentrate on what their characters are doing as individuals. However, if I had a procedure that would work online/email I could have a bunch of people online fight the battle out and then I’d know how the overall battle will go despite what the players will do. This would work well for games where the players are low level or don’t have powers that could really swing the outcome of the battle much. On the other hand, I could see a high level spellcaster being able to do things like Control Weather or summon masses of water elementals and the like to where one or two people could affect the course of the battle greatly.

            Will watch with interest to see what you come up with hex-based ideas. Thanks again for mentioning Uncharted Seas.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great game John, perhaps if you want more victories, you should play be email more often ! LOL
    On a more serious note great idea to keep gaming, and lucky your friend had two forces to play it out

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’m envious – it sounded like a great game!
    I love the Ancient period for war-games, and used to play a lot – I had a healthy Roman army, all lost to time now unfortunately (along with all my Napoleonic armies too) 😢
    As with any pre-gunpowder battle, it’s all about combined arms and using each effectively.
    Light Cavalry is an excellent unit to keep those missile troops on their toes, whilst heavy Cavalry can be battle turner if charged into the melee at the right time, and against the right type of unit – Hoplites in a steady formation should be avoided, lol!
    Early Phalanx units proved to be virtually indestructible until tactics were formed to beat them, and then they disappeared never to be seen again!
    Missile troops were quite effective, but the ranges woefully short compared to later periods, but if you can get them in the right position and protect them, then they can prove vital.
    I was always more of a defensive player, and would form up ready to accept the oppositions charge. Getting missile troops in a position to pepper the incoming units and cavalry to protect them. I’d then draw back the centre with hope of getting on the flanks, but of course… the best laid plans of mice and men…!

    Got me rambling there, John, thanks for a great post, brought back many happy memories, cheers!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Cheers mate! 🙂 Funnily enough, I’ve seen no more of this game than anyone else reading this post! I think John, who set it up and who owns the armies, used it to get off to a good start trying out the Hail Caesar rules! He’s now got the next game up and running with me as the Spartans against the Persians this time, so we’ll have to see how that turns out!

      Liked by 1 person

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