So we had another game of Sword & Spear at club the other week. This time I had lured Jeppan and Tomas into re-creating the battle of Stratus in 429 BC, which was a part of the Spartan campaign in Acarnania (a conflict also known as the Acarnanian War).
The main purpose of this game (at least for me) was to try how S&S works for multiplayer games, but the game actually ended up quite fun and intense in its own right – I’m now getting to a stage where most of the rules “flow” naturally, and it’s no longer a question of trying them as much as of actually playing them.
The setup for this battle is actually quite interesting: the Spartans have enlisted a number of local allies, mainly Ambraciot and Anactorian Hoplites but also some Chaonian “barbarians”. The whole contingent is now marching towards the Acarnanian town of Stratus, but they get separated as the Chaonians – lacking Greek discipline and eager to take the town for themselves – rush ahead of the main force.
Thus they end up isolated from their allies and are ambushed by Acarnanian skirmishers in the fields south of Stratus, where defending infantry is also waiting.
The Spartans and their allies are doing their best to catch up, but in the meantime the Chaonians (since I have no “real” 6mm barbarian models, I used Peltasts) are getting a rather rough treatment. But they also manage to draw the Acarnanians out, partially breaking up their defensive line.
In light of this, the defenders spend some activations on closing their center ranks. The barbarians, having learned their lesson, are now holding back…
…while the Spartan general Cnemus is rapidly advancing his spearhead force – a large unit of Spartan Hoplites. As the Acarnanian troops are mainly made up of Auxilia, this unit poses a real threat. And behind it comes the Allied Foot. The initial Acarnanian advantage seems to be gone.
But the Psiloi keep harrying the attackers, luring their Light Cavalry into the fields. The Chaonian General Photius himself joins in and thus ends up a bit too far away from his main force.
Meanwhile the Spartans and allied foot are marching on, but the troops on the eastern flank are having some trouble due to being out of command range. A unit of hoplites rushes ahead of the others, and isolated on the open fields it becomes an easy target for Acarnanian skirmishers.
The defenders keep tightening their ranks, preparing for the inevitable onslaught…
…however, the attackers use clever positioning to break up the compact line of defense. They manage to disrupt the west flank, where the Acarnanians defeats a unit of barbarians only to end up face-to-face with Cnemus and his large unit of Spartan Hoplites. Light Chaonian cavalry close in from the side, throwing javelins at the approaching Acarnanian support units.
The east flank and center still hold the line though – the Spartan’s allied foot are stumbling on each other due to some less than stellar maneuvering, while the Chaonian light cavalry get caught up in a staring contest with defending Psiloi. And the barbarian infantry, faced with a compact line of stalwart defenders, are finding it hard to muster any more enthusiasm.
So it’s on the west flank that things go down for real. Cnemus, eager to finally get his men into combat, makes a rushed move and ends up getting flank charged by Acarnanian hoplites. The ensuing battle effectively blocks the light cavalry’s ability to use their ranged attacks, and the defenders can therefore set up a frontal charge in peace.
When the flanking unit finally breaks – it’s up against some tough soldiers, after all – the Spartans are already worn down and ripe for the taking. The following frontal attack by two Acarnanian units is enough to rout them, meaning that Cnemus now has lost his single most valuable unit.
This opens up a great gap in the assaulting lines and forces a bunch of Spartan discipline tests. Most of the soldiers still hold, but the defenders, smelling victory, now sally forth onto the fields proper. The remaining barbarian units are forced back…
…and the Spartan allied foot on the east flank keep stumbling both on their own sandals and on the Chaonians in front of them, while constantly being harassed by javelinmen in the wheat fields. The bodies are piling up and they start wavering.
When they finally break, the resulting discipline tests mean that several nearby units also have had enough. The whole assault falls apart and the Acarnanians have won.
So once again history repeats itself: Stratus is safe and Cnemus, who barely survived this humiliating turn of events, has to limp back to the Peloponnese with his tail between his legs. A monument is erected to celebrate the victors, etc – you can probably see where the metaphors are going here.
All in all this was a fun, fluid and unpredictable game. Neither Jeppan nor Tomas had played S&S before and so they teamed up to play the Spartan side, while I ran the Acarnaians. They both did a great job, even though they obviously suffered a bit from the fact that their troops were so separated. But then again, those were the conditions during the historical battle, which in reality led to an even more crushing Spartan defeat. To compensate a bit and make the game a tad more balanced, I gave them some extra punch by including light cavalry in the Chaonian ranks instead of regular foot.
Sword & Spear proved to be even more fun as a multiplayer game. The actual multiplayer mechanic is very simple; just add another set of dice to the pool and draw eleven dice each activation phase instead of seven.
Like I mentioned above, this time around I also felt like I knew the rules, making for a more relaxed game where the actual events on the table were in focus, rather than constant flicking through the rulebook. I had also taken note of some rookie mistakes that I made during previous games – by getting stuff right and straightening out some of the question marks the game certainly became much more enjoyable.
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to more games in the future. And I probably won’t have to mention that they will all be documented and posted here on Hook Island, right?