Friday, June 22, 2007

Skirmish Battles in Thrace (4th and 5th century B.C.)

Skirmish Battles in Thrace (4th and 5th century B.C.)

So here it is. We have some general (and some specific) rules for playing ancient skirmishes between the Greeks and the Thracians (see the post below for my Thracian obsession) with Warhammer Ancient Battles. While these rules are designed with those two sides in mind, it can accommodate many ancient skirmishes against a hard to catch foe (Ancient Spanish against Romans comes to mind).

Anything not specifically dealt with by these additional scenario rules use the main rules from the WAB rulebook. The games should be relatively quick, tactical and fun.


The Sides

Greek forces often fought the Thracians in their home ground which could be extremely wooded and hilly. Whether the fighting was punitive raids, colonizing forces or just part of a larger army passing through, relations between the Greek city states, and the Thracian tribes usually involved bloodshed.

Each player picks a side either Thracian or Greek. Forces should be small, about 500 - 700pts. Example force listings will be provided with the scenarios. Use the Thracian and Greek Mercenary army lists from Alexander the Great. As an alternate, you may use the AoA (or main rulebook) list for Ancient Greeks. Just use the Thracian profile for all Thracians.

Units shouldn’t be larger than 12 – 16 models (unless you have very good reason). Most units should be between 8-12 models (with cavalry being even smaller).

Playing Area

To represent the smaller nature of these conflicts it is best to use a smaller playing area.

Use a 4’x4’ playing area.

Small Encounters

Ambushes, skirmishes between foraging parties and small raiding parties encompass most of the fighting we will be covering. Due to the smaller scope of the conflicts, some modifications to the normal unit rules are required.

All formed units are treated as light infantry. Skirmishers are still treated as skirmishers. Light infantry in skirmish formation must pass a LD check to reform into a formed unit (with rank bonus etc…)

The following modifiers apply to this LD check:

+1 If friendly non fleeing unit is within 8”

+1 If Thracian unit in cover

+1 If Thracian unit in Hill Fort

-1 If enemy is within 8”

Hoplite units retain their phalanx status until reduced to less than 8 models. Drilled hoplite units retain phalanx until they are reduced to less than 6 models.

Units in skirmish formation can benefit from a characters LD that is leading them directly.

Units can benefit from an Army Generals LD that is within 6” of them (instead of the normal 12”)

Any character can be given Army General status.

Foreign Soil

The Greek player is traveling through some of the wild country of Thrace. Lacking local knowledge they can easily become lost and subject to surprise attacks.

The Thracian player places scenery. There should be significantly more scenery than on a normal Warhammer Ancient Battles battlefield. Primary terrain should be rough rocky ground and forests. Small rivers, areas of brush or simple villages could also work. No piece of terrain can be placed within 2” of another.

The Greek player deploys first. Their deployment zone is 6” deep onto the table. They may not deploy within 12” of a side (this should make a 6” deep by 24” wide rectangle for a deployment zone). Units may start in either skirmish or formed if able.

Thracian player must either deploy his units at the start of the game in cover or hold them off the board to be deployed later. They must deploy at least 25% of their units on the board at the beginning of the game.

Dangerous Country

The Thracians favored ambushes and night attacks against their Greek opponents. Using their superior mobility they would skirmish with the enemy, throwing javelins and retreating before the slower moving opponent could damage them.

At the beginning of any Thracian turn after the first, a Thracian player may deploy any off board units into terrain. The unit must be able to fit into (or directly behind, there is some wiggle room here) the terrain piece they are deploying into. Once they are deployed, they may move and charge normally. To represent the difficult nature (even for the Thracians) of organizing a successful ambush, roll a D6 after deploying a unit in this manner, if you roll a 1, they may not move or shoot this round.

At the end of any Thracian turn, the Thracian player may attempt to hide any of his units in cover. They must be entirely contained in the terrain piece they are attempting to hide in (although again, some wiggle room is necessary with certain impractical terrain pieces). The Thracian player rolls a LD check for the unit attempting to hide with the following modifiers.

+1 If unit cannot be seen

+1 If Chieftain or Shaman is with unit

+1 If the unit did not move this turn

-1 If enemy is within 8”

-1 If enemy is in the terrain with you (this can apply along with “enemy is within 8”)

If the unit passes the LD check it may be placed off board (and brought on later per the deployment rules above). This represents the Thracians ability to retreat into unknown terrain and attack from other directions and angles.

Any Greek unit may attempt to explore terrain at the end of their turn as long as they did not shoot or fight. To explore terrain you must have at least one model from the unit in (or at least touching if it is a linear obstacle of some kind) the terrain piece.

The unit attempting to explore the terrain must pass an Initiative (yes, Initiative, the stat that rarely gets used but is quite important) test. If this test is passed (equal to or lower) then the terrain piece is considered explored and should be marked in some way (dice, counter, fuzzy pipe cleaner or whatever). Once a terrain piece is explored, it cannot be used by the Thracian player to hide in or deploy from.


Fighting on their home turf, Thracian tribes could use the environment to fight their Greek enemies.

The Thracian player gets D3 obstacles per game. Obstacles are small terrain pieces like felled trees and boulders rolled into position. Each obstacle should measure about 3-5” across and be really no deeper than 2-3”. These count as linear obstacles in game terms.

Obstacles may be placed at the beginning of the Thracian players turn after any off board units have been deployed. Only one obstacle can be placed per turn and it cannot be placed within 8” of a Greek unit. As soon as the obstacle is placed a single remaining off board unit may be placed behind it as to defend the obstacle. This is the only time a unit may be placed from off board with the obstacle.

No additional units may hide in the obstacle or be placed from off board in it.

Sample Scenario

The Situation

A small force of Greek soldiers is marching through Thracian territory. They are deep in hostile land and have to escape as the local tribesmen have become violent. The Greek soldiers are carrying valuable information on the terrain and enemy disposition and must escape.

The Forces

These are just sample forces. Feel free to use whatever models you have in your collection for these troops and mix and match size and armaments. This should be fun.

Thracian (591 Pts)

1 Chieftain

Hand Weapon; Javelins; Light Armor; Shield

1 Chieftain

Hand Weapon; Javelins; Light Armor; Shield

12 Mountain Tribesmen

Leader; Standard; Musician; Javelins; Buckler

12 Mountain Tribesmen

Leader; Standard; Musician; Javelins; Buckler

8 Mountain Tribesmen

Leader; Standard; Musician; Javelins; Buckler

12 Lowland Tribesmen

Leader; Standard; Musician; Thrusting Spear; Javelins; Buckler

12 Mountain Tribesmen

Leader; Standard; Musician; Rhomphaia; Javelins; Buckler

Greek (563 Pts)

1 Xenagos

Hand Weapon; Thrusting Spear; Light Armor; Large Shield

12 Mercenary Hoplites

Leader; Musician; Hand Weapon; Thrusting Spear; Large Shield

12 League Hoplites

Leader; Musician; Hand Weapon; Thrusting Spear; Large Shield

12 Veteran Hoplites

Leader; Musician; Hand Weapon; Thrusting Spear; Light Armor; Large Shield

12 Psiloi

Short Bow; Dagger; Javelins

12 Psiloi

Javelin & Buckler; Leader; Dagger

Victory Conditions

The Greek player is trying to get as many points to escape off the opposite board edge as possible. If more than 50% of the Greek points get off the board then it is a major victory for the Greeks. If between 25% and 50% get off the board it is a minor Greek victory. If less than 25% of the Greek points get off the board it is a Thracian victory.

For a Greek unit to count as escaping they must get to the opposite board edge from their deployment zone. As soon as they touch the board edge during movement they are removed and points are counted for them. If any part of the unit escapes, the whole units cost is counted.

The game can be played with no turn limit but should easily be finished within 10-12 turns.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Thracians

The Thracians were an Indo European people who lived in the area north of Greece and around the area of modern Bulgaria. They were a numerous people stretching into Asia Minor and north into the Balkans. Thracians were a tribal people with the land of Thrace divided into as many as 40 different major tribes. A warlike and boisterous people, who valued warriors and plunder, they fought for and against just about every civilization they encountered. Seriously, these guys (and gals) were bad asses.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the tribes bordering the more recognized/civilized areas and Thracians are no different. I’ve managed to acquire and paint a fair number of the little guys in 28mm to use as peltasts for my Greek army. But I’d love to give them their own army, their own chance to shine not as some auxiliary arm of slow ponderous hoplites. Each time I think this, I do a quick count of the Thracians I have that are painted (around 60) and think of the amount I would need to finish to give them an army of their own. I then go into a corner and cry myself to sleep where I have nightmares of painting another 120 geometrically patterned tribesmen. I don’t know if I have the stamina to paint all those tribesmen when I know in a straight up fight they’ll still have a rough go at the hands of period opposition.

So what to do? There are already great figures, great lists and great history for the Thracians but I’m having trouble getting them involved in a great game. Then I thought about it some more…and I happened to be flipping through an Osprey and saw this picture.

I was going about this all wrong. Thracians shouldn’t be shoehorned into big linear battle lines. They should be fighting skirmishes and ambushes. They need to be surrounded by the rough ground of their native lands savagely attacking out of the rocks and woods. They needed scenarios that played to their strengths and had them fight the way they did historically (90% of the time). Don’t get me wrong, the existing Thracian list is great, and they are definitely fun and useful to include as allies in a period army. I would love to field an entire 2000 pt Thracian army but I have no delusions of grandeur about its likely performance against the pike blocks and companions of Macedon.

So I’ve created a skirmish mini-game within the Warhammer Ancient Battles system to hopefully make for some fun battles between Thracian tribes and their multiple enemies (starting with the Greeks). I’ll have the basic rules uploaded in the next day or two and then add additional scenarios as I can. They are pretty loose and hopefully fun. The idea is to play a quick game with a friend focusing on just one small part of the larger conflicts in the region. An ambush of a marching column, skirmishes between foragers or even a night raid on a Thracian hill fort will all be covered.

Battles will focus on between 50-60 figures and around 600-700pts per side. Basically, Thracians are a fascinating people on and off the battlefield and I wanted to give them a chance to shine (even if it is just in my own little games).

Comments welcome.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Answering Questions.

A few people (both at the convention and online) have asked how the board was created, so i've decided to answer, and how. It was my first time making a complete scenery board and I was on a rather short deadline (due to some flakey terrain makers) but I think it turned out decently. There are already a ton of great sites showing how to construct a scenery board that I took inspiration from. The useful thing about this was that the whole thing was created indoors, with no power tools or noxious fumes.

The whole board is made out of 2” thick sections of blue Styrofoam. I bought a little extra expecting to mess up some so my poor little car was full of the stuff for a day. It was cut into 4’x 2’ sections for the base and the cliff was made out of 2’x 2’ sections. This allowed for transport, storage and still held onto a good aesthetic (there weren’t to many seams).

Here you can see my poor dining room covered in drop clothes and stacks of foam. I’m still in the process of cleaning; it was a huge hassle to do all this in a one bedroom apartment.

I laid out the boards on the floor and marked a line across for reference (at the 12” mark).

I marked the basic shape of the board and cliffs using figures for reference. I knew about how wide I wanted it at the thinnest parts and went from there. I used some reference maps for the general shape and made sure to include the narrow portions that made the hot gates. I then proceeded to my first cut.

Here you can see the height of cliff compared to the 28mm figures. The main portion of the cliff would be 6” high with another 2” augmenting that to make the mountain trail.

I cut the foam with a foam cutting blade. This is basically a long exacto blade style knife. I couldn’t use a foam cutter since most of this was being done at night after work and inside my apartment. Cutting made a huge mess on the floor but I figured the cleanup would be better than sniffing toxic fumes for a few nights.

Once the cliffs were cut out I stacked them up on my table and glued them together to form the final 2’x 2’ sections that are 6” high. I stacked heavy (nerdy) books on top of the sections while they dried to make sure there were minimal gaps. When I glued the second and subsequent sections I placed its adjoining (already glued) section next to it to help line them up properly and ensure a tight fit.

The front cliffs didn’t line up perfectly but that is okay because I just hacked away at them when they were all glued to make it reasonably seamless.

I then painted the top surfaces with slightly thinned down white glue and added a mixture of different grain sands.

I used a very scientific method of clasping a handful of sand in my fist and then shaking it out over the whole board to give a good, light coverage. I then turned the boards on their side to get rid of the excess.

Once the sand had thoroughly dried, the painting began. This was probably the most painfully time consuming section. During painting I watched the Champions league final, most of a season of Big Love, The Lost Boys and some other movies/shows I can’t remember. I painted a base coat of dark brown over the entire surface. It was difficult to get into a lot of the cuts and crevasses in the rocky cliff surface and I had to use different sized brushes to make sure it was all covered.

I then heavily dry brushed a yellowish sand color over the entire surface as well.

After that dry brush was done, I added a final lighter dry brush of a whiter sand color. A road was dry brushed in bleached bone as a final addition to break up the flat terrain a little. The final pictures of the board in action can be seen in the post before this.

The top pieces to the cliff were carved from off cuts of the main board. They are separate pieces placed at the top of the cliff for additional height/separation from the mountain trail.

All in all I’m happy with the results and the relatively simple techniques created a decent presentation. Total build time a little over 2 weeks of mainly evenings.

Someone also commented wanting to know about the scenario cards used so I’ve added their text below. X2 means there are two of these cards in the deck. I made these to bring flavor to the scenario as well as teach some of the history of the battle.

As always, comments, questions, insults and threats are all welcome.


Whips of the barbarians X2

Persian forces get an extra D6” added to their basic movement this round.

“Persian casualties were high, because their regimental commanders wielded whips and urged every single man ever onward from behind”


Death of Leonidas

Spartans must charge the nearest enemy unit and must pursue a defeated enemy. This lasts for D3 turns.

“The Persians and Lacedaemonians grappled at length with one another over the corpse of Leonidas, but the Greeks fought so well and so bravely that they eventually succeeded in dragging his body away.”


We shall fight in the shade X2

Persian units do not get a -1 to shooting while moving this round. Persian units may use massed archery while moving this round.

“…when they fired their bows, they hid the sun with the mass of arrows.”


Xerxes demands obedience X2

A single Persian unit may re-roll a break or panic check this round.

Xerxes considered himself a living god and demanded obedience from his followers.


The Greek forces gain D3 oracles.

“The first warning the Greeks in Thermopylae got was when the diviner Megistias inspected the entrails of his sacrificial victims…”



The naval triumphs at Artermision inspire the Greek side. Gain 1 oracle.

Artemision was the second part of the Greek plan to hold the Persians at Thermopylae. A severely outnumbered Greek fleet (along with rough seas) dealt a great blow to the Persian naval forces.

Thebans desert

Lose D6 hoplites from the allied unit.

“Then they held out their hands in surrender and approached the Persians.”