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 Action Point 1, we covered the basics of the system and looked at the different types of units available to the commander. In this Action Point, we will dive into the very interesting Command Phase where the player must make tough decisions about how to use their limited double sided Command Chits.
The Command Phase is where players get to decide what Wing to activate and then what Phases they want that Wing to enact. The process is very simple but is frankly the best part of the design and makes for some really interesting and hand wringing decisions. Each player has three double sided Command Chits that have different Commands on each side. Due to this fact, some combinations of Commands cannot be played at the same time. The process is very simple. The player gets to choose two Commands for the chosen Wing and will have a choice between 6 different Commands.
The following is how these Chits are collocated:
I think that the Move/Combat and Skirmish/Rally Command Chits are pretty self explanatory but you might be wondering about the other double Chit called Strategos/Bonus. This Chit can be used by the player instead of playing two of the normal Command Chits. Instead they can pair one of the basic Commands with a Strategos or Bonus Command.
Strategos was the title of the commander of a Greek army. Today, we would call this person a leader or maybe the general. In a Hoplite battle, their place was typically located in the first rank of the phalanx where their voice could be hear over the din of battle by all of the Hoplites in the formation. The word Strategos is synonymous with our word strategy and is a very fitting name for the Strategos Command as this Command should not be used haphazardly but with a plan of action in mind.
Pairing a Command Chit with the Strategos Command issues the one chosen Command to ALL of the Wings under your command. ALL! That means every formation you have. Remember, that normally a Command is only issued to one Wing and that Wing is the only group of units on the board that can do anything. Strategos goes against that rule and breaks the system so it can be very powerful when used properly. But, you will need to keep in mind that using the Strategos Command comes with a cost.
You must lower your Rally Limit to use it. Remember that the Rally Limit is the number of Rally Attempts that you can make when you use the Rally Command. If your Rally Limit is 4, then when you use the Rally Command you can attempt to Rally only four units. You also must keep in mind that if your Rally Limit ever is reduced to zero then you will automatically lose the game. So the real trick in using the powerful Strategos Command is to use it when it has the most impact or can change your fortunes on the battlefield. I typically like to use it one or two times per scenario and focus on something like a double Move or a double Combat to get into my opponents formations before they can Skirmish me to death or to finish off Exhausted Units before the player can use the Rally Command.
Pairing a Command with the Bonus Command simply makes that Command more powerful. The Bonus pairing effects are as follows:
Bonus + Skirmish – the player can perform two Skirmish Phases one after the other. This can be devastating as it will really weaken the targeted Wing. I like to think of Skirmish as softening up your enemy but we will discuss this more in the next entry in the series.
Bonus + Rally – the player will add a +1 DRM to each of their Rally attempts during this turn. When used with a centrally located Leader in the Wing this can make bringing back your Exhausted Units much simpler. Remember, that in order to successfully Rally a unit you must roll a modified 8+ on an 8-sided die. Not an easy task without some modifiers.
Bonus + Move – the player can perform an extra Move Phase after the first is completed. This can be very important when you are trying to close on your enemy and just are a few rows short but remember on your 2nd Move of a Phase you will only get 2 squares not the usual 4.
Bonus + Combat – the player will subtract 1 from each die roll in Combat. Remember, that in Combat you are trying to roll low so this is very important. I have used this Bonus many times to finish off my enemy and destroy their Wings as I watch them crumble and break from the field.
I have found that the Bonus Command is used quite often, which initially surprised me because you are usually sacrificing two actions for one, although the added benefits and DRM’s do make a big difference between success and failure in that action.
To me, the Command Phase and the use of the double sided Command Chits is the best part of the design! You want to move your Wing full of powerful Hoplites and Heavy Infantry up to then engage your enemy in hand to hand combat? Wait, you mean that I can only choose one or the other of these Actions because they are located on the same Chit? I want to Rally my units that have been damaged but also want to not waste this opportunity to throw javelins as my enemy that is located just inside my Skirmish range but you are telling me that I can’t do that? Well, in essence yes. The reason is that the designer placed these Actions in a way on the Command Chits to force the players to have to think about how they are going to do what they need to do to defeat their foes. In essence using strategy!
You can’t just run up and then set yourself to fighting. You must understand that the basis behind this decision is not because Tom Russell is a masochist and wants players to feel helpless while playing his games. The basis is that Ancient combat was not always easy. It was hard to get commands to each part of your forces who were spread out over a quarter mile front. They all couldn’t here the voice of the commander. Oh, and there is always confusion on a battlefield. As well as dust. And the screams of the mortally wounded. Not to mention the intimidating prickly phalanx formation of Spartans across the way who are slobbering and yelling with blood in their eyes wanting to skewer your troops on their pointy spears! Ancient battles were organized chaos and the commander that could get it all together and figure out how best to move and use his troops would win the day.
So is the case in With It or On It. The player who can exercise restraint and self control and play their limited double sided Command Chits in some form and fashion of a workable strategy will ultimately win the day. As a very aggressive player, I had to really stop and think a minute about how I was going to navigate the battlefield by using my Move Commands in tandem with either Bonus or Strategos Commands to get the maximum benefit out of my actions. I also had to make sure I was utilizing all parts of my army, not just the powerful front line soldiers in the Hoplites and Heavy Infantry. The Light Infantry and Horse Units can be very impact-full and make the work of the up front types much more doable. I love this design and really look forward to trying out future expansions focused on different civilizations.
In Action Point 3, we will dive a bit deeper into the various Phases of the Sequence of Play giving more detail and review the mechanics of the Skirmish Phase and Move Phase.