There was a post on the yahoo group the other night asking some questions about Lost Battles. In reply I wrote what was supposed to be a brief summary of the game, but it turned out to be a bit longer than I expected. I decided to re-post it here as it may be of interest to those who want to know a little more about the game.
The forthcoming Lost Battles board game actually contains two games, "Lost Battles" and "Empire", but I'm going to concentrate on Lost Battles as that's the one I know most about.
Lost Battles is a system that models historical battles of the ancient era at grand-tactical scale. That means that each side will control somewhere around 20 units per side, with each unit representing greater or fewer numbers of troops depending on the size of the battle. At the battle of Trebia an average quality unit of heavy infantry represents 3000 men; at the battle of Leuctra a similar unit would represent 500 men. This is called the 'troop multiple' and allows LB to work for historical battles of different sizes without altering the core rules.
The board is divided into 20 zones; 5 wide by 4 deep. Troops move and fight from zone to zone, and these also scale in real terms from a minimum of 300m across to a maximum of 1200m across depending on the size of the historical battlefield.
Armies are made up of a limited set of troop types, with some sub-types to reflect different styles of fighting. The main types are light and heavy infantry, light and heavy cavalry, elephants, chariots and scythed chariots. The sub-types include phalangites, hoplites, legionaries and cataphracts, with rules to allow them to perform as they did historically.
Units are rated for quality and fighting value, with the three quality levels being levy (fighting value 2), average (fighting value 3) and veteran (fighting value 4)
The game also includes on-table generals, who make a real difference to the quality of a force. Generals have a range of special functions including the ability to rally units, move troops for free, give combat bonuses to units in their zone, and occasionally to boost morale. Better quality generals can do more of these things; poorer quality ones fewer.
So once you have decided on a scenario you want to play and set up your 20-odd units and generals (and seen your opponent do the same), what happens next?
Well, it's IGO-UGO, so if you're the starting player you must first work out how many commands you have. Commands are what allow your units to move and fight; the oil in the gaming engine, if you like ;-)
For every ten points of fighting value in your army you get 1 command. On top of that you roll a d6, and that gives you your command total. As mentioned, your generals also give you free commands (called exemptions), but I won't go into those too much right now. As an example, if you are fighting Cannae the Romans begin with a fighting value of 70, so they get 7 command plus the die result. The Carthaginians have a fighting value of 84, so they get 8 commands plus the die result.
Once you know how many commands you have you can start thinking about moving and fighting. It usually costs two commands to do most things (activate a group to move, activate a group to fight, etc) but there are a lot of different ways you can use commands, and there are many subtleties built into the system. You can make some units move farther at a higher command cost, or give units +1 in combat, and so on and so forth. Usually you can't do everything you'd like to do, so in how and where you use your commands resides a lot of the decision-making of the game, and it's where your tabletop generalship (and rules knowledge!) is most tested.
Combat is pretty simple: in most cases four units can attack from any one zone into another, so when it is your turn you choose which zones to attack with, and which units will attack from those zones and in what order. Two dice (six-sided) are rolled for each attack with a 'to hit' number required. As you would expect, different types of troops require different 'to hit' numbers depending on who they are attacking. Heavy cavalry against light infantry will hit on a 7; against heavy infantry they will need a 9, and so on for each troop type. The defending zone must always have a 'lead unit' against which all attacks are directed, and when a hit is scored on that unit it becomes 'spent' and another unit takes its place. Eventually, after a number of turns, 'spent' units will have to rotate back into the lead position again, and when spent units are hit they 'shatter', are removed from the table, and cause a morale test.
A lot of space could be devoted to talking about the details of combat, but to avoid overload I'll just say that it's simple but there is a lot to it and you have to make some interesting decisions, especially with 'all-out attacks' and rallies.
Over time zones all across the battlefield will find themselves with more and more 'spent' units, and the process of trying to shatter enemy units while avoiding the same happening to your own becomes quite exciting.
Because it is grand-tactical scale, you will not be thinking about what formation you troops will assume, line of sight, whether to throw javelins at 40 paces or wait until 20 or any other low-level tactics. You will decide where to concentrate the greatest weight of your attack (represented by combat bonuses and high-quality troops), where you will attempt to hold the enemy (represented by refusing a flank, or stacking a zone with lower-quality troops) and how you will attempt to gain grand-tactical advantage (represented by attacking enemy zones from more than one direction, surrounding enemy zones or holding more of the central zones than the enemy).
To win battles you need to force a morale failure in the enemy army. When you shatter enough units and build up a morale advantage in other ways (holding key positions, killing enemy generals, surrounding zones containing enemy units) eventually one or both armies will start to fail morale tests and parts of the army will flee the field. At first spent light troops will run; then whole zones will flee, until finally a fatal shatter is scored and the remaining troops of one army melt away.
Once the battle is over, the secondary genius of the system shows through. At this point, players count up victory points and work out who wins the *game*. Unlike in many systems, the weaker army CAN (and often does) win in Lost Battles, because there is a handicap system in play. If you've played a few other ancients board game systems you'll probably have found that games are very imbalanced and there is not always much joy in playing the weaker army. Lost Battles is quite different in this regard, and each battle really is a game as well as a refight. The tabletop Caesar can win the field at Pharsalus but still lose the battle if the tabletop Pompey puts in a brave, stubborn and cunning performance.
So what do you get in Lost Battles?
1) a tense gaming experience.
2) a working model of ancient combat at grand-tactical level.
3) a sense of how these battles were fought and some insight into how and why the battles were won or lost as they were.
Where is the game in Lost Battles?
1) how you deploy your army is very important (though you can use the historical deployments if you prefer).
2) where and when you employ combat bonuses is key.
3) it is necessary to have a plan for winning the battle, but you also need to be flexible in your approach.
4) which troops you put as lead units and the order of your attacks is a subtle but essential tool of tabletop generalship.
5) you must learn / gamble on when you can rely on your defense to hold and when you must stake everything on the attack.
6) use of reserves, withdrawals and encirclements is very important.
7) the order in which you move and resolve your attacks requires constant assessment to give your army the best chance of winning the field and yourself of winning the game.
8) how you use your on-table generals (where to position them, how to use the free commands, when to risk their death in a rally attempt and so on) is also quite important.
I hope that it gives you a bit of a taste of what you can expect from Lost Battles.