Wednesday, November 4, 2009

" It was he who first organized the Asiatic armies by dividing them into separate units - spearmen, archers, and cavalry"

Cyaxeres that is, according to Herodotus.

When designing a wargame army, it can add to the experience if one takes the time to consider its underlying structure as well as its character or story. Where do the troops come from, how are they raised, organized and paid and so forth. This is especially true if a long term campaign is being contemplated. Conceptually, this can be done without respect to rules and basing but eventually, such practicalities need to be addressed.

I have long been a proponent of fixed width multi-figure basing. For the last 25 years, my standard has been a 60mm frontage with 6-8 infantry or light infantry in 2 ranks, 4 skirmishers or 2-3 cavalry in a single rank. A system which I adopted from Comitatus. This gave me some grief when trying DBA since my depth was so far out but worked well with Armati and with the help of casualty caps has worked with WAB as well. I have also used these bases to try out Warmaster and FOG. Even if the bases work ok, some rules dictate particular unit sizes which can play havoc with named regiments with a long history. Now its hard to predict what your friends might want to play 10 years from now so prudence dictates picking an organization that suits me but which is flexible enough to allow troops to be drawn off for pick up games even if sabots have to be used.

A mass of Persian infantry, 6 bases each with 6 figures. Is that 1 WAB unit? 3 Armati units formed deep? or 2 Warmaster units one behind the other? The usual mix of Garrison and RAFM figures with spara from Garrison.

I've played more than 12 sets of ancient rules during the last 36 years (counting WRG 3-6 as 1 but WRG7th as different) and played everything from competition games to historical refights, campaigns and table top teasers. Most of those rules had something to offer but I think something old school-ish is most likely to have the flexibility to handle the variety of skirmishes, battles and sieges that I hope to encounter and for now, strange though it may seem to those who aren't familiar with them, Warhammer Ancient Battles (WAB) fits that bill better than most and is popular here to boot. If that changes, well, I recently downloaded the free WRG 3rd edition pdf.

When I revived my Persian army for use with WAB a few years ago, I decided on big infantry blocks supported by smaller, flexible cavalry and light infantry units so, given my basing style, I went with units of 36 infantry, 12 man light infantry or cavalry or 6 skirmishers. Now the books tell us that the Persians were organized in decimal fashion in 10's, 100's and 1,000's though these were not all up kept up to strength (hence the Immortals). No mention of cavalry or light troops being fielded in smaller detachments though one could always make the case. I decided instead to aim at standard 1,000 man units and to heck with optimum wargame effect. After some thought, I settled on a 1:50 ratio but assumed that 100 men per unit were off sick or on baggage guard duties which gives me standard 18 man units. Too big for easy maneuver for cavalry and light infantry and too small to give the heavy/medium infantry punch and staying power in melee. In other words, just right.

But what about basing? The multi-figure bases work ok but most people use single figures which the rules appear to encourage. It certainly enhances flexibility, especially of light troops who can skirmish or form up. My 18 man units also mean that I can't form my infantry 4 deep so either I stick with a 2 deep formation or I need to split some bases. Oh dear. Well, I may leave some of the multi-figure bases but since I need to rebase so many figures anyway, I am leaning to putting all figures on a 20mm wide individual base with unit sized movement trays. If I want to play something else, I will quickly be able to make sabots and field wrg/dba standard elements.

The new model army: RAFM Seleucid arab archers given spears and hired by Cyaxeres for his upcoming campaign in Lydia. 18 figures with officer, musician and standard bearer on individual bases ready to form up or skirmish. Bases by Litko.

What about the Lydians? That's going to take a bit more thought. Eventually I hope to post a complete illustrated OB for each side. Make take a while so a planned list will appear first.


  1. My units have varied over the years, especially cavalry. I started with 16 strong cavalry units all round. this didn't work very well and I then went with different size units for different armies - Achaemenids 6 man light cavalry, 8 man heavies, Seleucids generally 12 man, Assyrians 6. Infantry were generally about 20-24 with the usual 50 strong Seleucid levy archers. Phalangites were later used in 16 strong units - blocks of 4x4 - while light infantry usually settled down to 10s.

    At the moment I'm concentrating on a Macedonian army based on 20mm Garrison conversions - 48 strong representing 1,000 men. First unit finished, second started, one to go after that.

    I'm also hoping to get some 'contingents' together - including Lydians - based on new cast Garrisons and conversions. For the Lydians, the infantry and chariot figures are all based on the 20mm Phrygian PEA3 (as was) - I've already got some shieldless and charioteer conversions, at some point I'll do a hoplite conversion as well. Archers give me a use for the Greek heavy archer G8. My chariots have a card body, the axle is a cut down spear and the chariot pole is made from masts from the old Garrison 1/300th scale ships range. Someday, they'll appear on my site.


    1. Rob, I have some Garrison ancient figures that I bought in th 60's and early 70's from their shop in South Harrow.
      I wanted to identify them and you seem to know them quite well - do you have a catalogue or a list that I can look up what I have got?
      Any help would be much appreciates, thanks

    2. Chris, Rob isn't likely to see your comment on a post this old.

      Your best bet is to check the gallery at his website.

      The catalog might be even more useful but its offline for the winter. You can find contact info for Rob on his site.


  2. Greenhalgh's book Early Greek Warfare shows a Chalcidian vase with a horsemen in greek armour
    inc breastplate and plumend helm, turning in the saddle to fire his bow at a pursuing holite! No one quite knows who he is supposed to be but the presumption is that it comes from a Greek colony and represents a local. I'm awfully tempted to support my Lydian lancers with a unit of horse archers in Greek armour. To raise a few eyebrows if naught else (well I have this period painting......) They should go well with the Phrygian axemen (when I finally get them).
    Love to see those chariots, was there nothing close to start with? Waste not want not!

  3. I'll try and send a quick photo of the current batch - still a bit of work to do to finish them. One of the charioteers is actually a modified Axeman.