With It or On It was simply a revelation and an utter joy to play. Not often do we say that about new gaming experiences and especially not for a fast playing wargame but this system just created such an interesting and tactical experience that I had to share it with you. With It Or On It is the first game in a new Shields & Swords Ancients Series from Hollandspiele that uses a system developed in the Shields & Swords Series that deals with medieval battles. The series is not overly crunchy, and doesn’t overdue it with different armor and weapon types, but simplifies these elements into a concept called Combat Class. The game takes the vantage point of the player as an overall commander where you control several different wings and have to play a series of Command Chits to activate them. The game is light, fast playing and the rules overhead is low but the game has some really interesting decisions regarding how to go about defeating your opponent.
In this series of Action Points we will cover the basics of the system and take a look at the different types of units available to the commander, dive into the very interesting Command Phase where the player must make tough decisions about how to use their limited double sided Command Chits, dive a bit deeper into the various Phases of the Sequence of Play giving more detail on the Skirmish Phase and Move Phase, finally we will focus on understanding the Combat Phase and taking a look at the Unit Type Modifier Matrix and how it works with the Combat Results Table and then take a look at a few examples of battles.
Basics of the System
If you are familiar with the Shields & Swords II Series you will be very familiar with the concepts of this system which simply takes the battles from the Medieval Period to the Ancients. The game uses a mix of Command Chits to activate units and take actions such as Move, Combat, Skirmish (typically ranged combat), Rally and then adds in some additional chits that will improve actions or allow the player to take initiative and act again. In addition to the Command Chits, the system relies upon a Unit Type Modifier Matrix to model the difference in Unit types and how they would be more or less effective against various other Unit types. For example, a Hoplite Unit, which is the best Combat Class Unit, would gain a -2 DRM if attacking Light Infantry Units. Lower die results are better on the CRT and Units can become either Eliminated or Exhausted.
The mapsheet is typical for games set in the Ancients period and is a square grid with no terrain or other features highlighted. The interesting thing about the square grid is that squares are only considered adjacent orthogonally and never diagonally. There is a dotted line that bisects the map in the middle and is used for the initial placement of Units during setup. The map has two edges noted on the mapsheet and are named Edge 1 and Edge 2. One of these Edges belongs to each player.
The only other important aspect of the mapsheet is the Rally Limit Track that keeps track of the number of Rally attempts that a player can make during a single turn. This Rally Limit usually equates to the number of Leaders each side has on the field.
Each player will control specific Unit Types based upon the scenario chosen, set either during the Greco-Persian or Pelopponesian Wars. These Units each have their own double sided counter that contains important pieces of information about the Unit’s fighting prowess and their abilities. You will notice the very colorful counters that are not only used to spice the game up but the different colors indicate the Wing to which each of the Units belongs. In this system, Wings activate, move and fight together and the individual Units contained in that Wing contribute to the overall result of battles through either a direct attacking role (front line) or a supportive role (second line or third line). Leaders are also included in the game and assist in Unit’s Rally attempts during battles.
Each Wing doesn’t contain each different type of Unit. As you can see in the picture above, Hoplite Units and Light Infantry Units come in every color Wing used in the game but Heavy Infantry only appear in three of the Wings, including blue, pink and purple and Light Horse Units appear in only two Wings, including brown and light tan.
The information contained on the counters is pretty limited but very important to the game. In the upper left hand corner is the Unit Type abbreviation. There are four different Unit Types in the game, including Hoplites (HO), Heavy Infantry (HI), Light Infantry (LI) and Light Horse (LH). The first three types are generally referred to as Foot Units while the lone Light Horse Unit is referred to as Horse Units.
Hoplites were the most elite and best fighting Units available in the Ancient world. The reason for their elite fighting style was the tight formations they used with overlapping shields protecting the individual men of the formation but also the units to their left. They also used long spears that would overlap and create a deadly barrier to all foes that would dare close with the formation. The Hoplite Units contain both A and B Combat Class.
Heavy Infantry are also made up of heavily armed and armored Units but they didn’t use the same phalanx style formation as the Hoplites and were therefore not quite as good. The designer also made some mention of the fact that he could have included lesser Hoplite Units (Tom referred to them as rubbish Hoplites) or could have mentioned in scenarios that the Athenian Hoplites didn’t have this or that benefit or advantage but to keep it simple and to make the rules overhead light he decided to add in the Heavy Infantry Units instead to represent this difference. The Heavy Infantry Units contain both A and B Combat Class.
Light Infantry are not comparable to either Hoplites or Heavy Infantry and their B and C Combat Class shows that fact. These Units include various types of fighting units including archers, javelins and peltasts. Typically, these Light Infantry have the Skirmish ability in scenarios which can used to soften up and weaken formations as they advance into melee with ranged attacks.
Light Horse are simply mobile mounted Units that can move very differently on the battlefield than all the other Units. Light Horse can move in all 8 directions from a single square including diagonally and backwards. The Foot Units cannot do this. This is a huge advantage in the game and can be used to great effect with a bit of planning. Horse Units have A and B Combat Class but are advantaged when going against the other Unit Types. The attacking Units targeting Horse Units generally get a +1 or +2 modifier which makes them a bit harder to hit due to their mobility.
Back to the information on the counters, in the upper right corner of the counter is the Combat Class. These values range from A (which is an elite Unit) to C (which is very bad). Sometimes this Combat Class rating can be increased or decreased due to the circumstances of the battle that is included in a scenario. The Combat Class is used to determine which row to use on the Combat Results Table. The better the Combat Class, typically the better the results are when the die is rolled. For example, if we were attacking and rolled a modified 4 on the CRT, an A+ Combat Class Unit would score a Defender Exhausted result, while a D Combat Class Unit would score an Attacker Exhausted result. Quite the difference and now you can see why Combat Class of Units matters! On the back side of Units is shown their Exhausted side and is represented by a white stripe. If a Unit has two white stripes it is considered to be a Brittle Unit and is removed once hit and flipped to its Exhausted side.
Each of an Army’s Wings will be clearly described in a scenario setup as either Single, Double or Triple Depth. Units in a Single Depth Wing are lined up in a single row while Units in a Double Depth Wing are in two rows and if Triple Depth in three rows. The length of these rows will be determined by the number of Units in the setup. If there are 6 Units in a Wing for example, for a Single Depth the row will include all six Units while if in a Double Depth there will be three Units in each row.
The disposition of each Wing will be listed in the setup with Unit Types declared and then a number. For example as say six Hoplites (one Leader) and four Light Infantry. Then all of the Units of that type and Wing color will be put into an opaque container and then drawn out randomly from the container. The player can then examine the reverse side of each of the Units to determine their relative strengths and weaknesses and then the interesting part comes into play. The player then randomizes all of the Units by placing them face-up and mixing them all together so that you cannot remember the back sides of the Units. This way as you play the game you will never quite know where your line is weak and might break once hit. You know from looking at the Units after drawing them that two of your B Combat Class Hoplites were Brittle but you mixed them up and now cannot remember which ones they were. This adds the fun factor to the game and keeps it light. During the course of the game you are not allowed to examine the reverse sides of the Units except when flipping them over to resolve Exhaustion (1 white stripe) or Elimination (2 white stripes). This became a real source of tension as we played the game and never really knew what would happen when Units were inevitably flipped after being hit. Will the center of my line collapse? Will those poor Units be stuck in my back and not really effect the battle?
The game is a very interesting take on Ancients and we really enjoyed playing the game. In fact, Alexander didn’t really want to play it as he was unimpressed with the map and the mono-design for the different Units. But, after playing he thanked me for making us take the game out for a spin.
In Action Point 2, we will dive into the very interesting Command Phase where the player must make tough decisions about how to use their limited Command Chits