My first love in wargaming has always, and most likely always will be, World War II. I love it and definitely have more games on this topic in my collection than any other. But, as I looked through my collection a few weeks ago, I am starting to notice that I have an alarming number of games focused on Ancients in my collection. Games like Commands & Colors: Ancients, Falling Sky, Pendragon, Pericles, Hannibal & Hamilcar, SPQR and others just to name a few. I have also played several others that are not in my collection such as Genesis, Imperium Romanum, With It or On It and The Grass Crown. This is not even including the solitaire games on the subject such as Agricola, Aurelian, The Wars of Marcus Aurelius, Stilicho and Solitaire Caesar. I guess what I am trying to say is that I realize that I like Ancients….like a lot. But why? Well, I have always held a fascination with Rome. Their power, their strategy, their technology. I have also really liked the general tactics of the time including Phalanx, ranged weaponry, sieges and cavalry. These elements all make for a compelling and challenging wargaming experience. So, let’s take a look at my Best 3 Games with…Ancients!

3. Shields & Swords Ancients: With It or On It from Hollandspiele

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 really held my attention and had me wanting to come back for me. 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.

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 best part about this game is all of the various historical elements that seem to have been included in the design, from tactics of the time, to the difference in Combat Class among the same type of units and the the difference in Unit types and their advantages found in the Unit Type Modifier Matrix. This attention to historical detail has created a very interesting and insightful design that is frankly very interesting to play. I know that the game is fairly light, and many of you were probably turned off by the basic and very plain board and the multitude of colors used for the Units, but the Command Phase and the use of the Command Chits is pure genius and makes for a very tactical game that you must consider each use of the Command Chits as there are combinations that can really put pressure on your opponent. I really look forward to future volumes in this Shields & Swords Ancients Series as I want to see how different periods are handled and what new toys and tricks that Tom Russell will provide for us to explore.

I wrote a series of Action Point posts on this one detailing the different aspects. In Action Point 1, we covered the basics of the system and looked at the different types of units available to the commander. In Action Point 2, we dove into the very interesting Command Phase where the player must make tough decisions about how to use their limited double sided Command Chits. In Action Point 3, we explored a bit deeper into the various Phases of the Sequence of Play giving more detail on the Skirmish Phase and Move Phase. In Action Point 4, focused on understanding the Combat Phase taking a look at the Unit Type Modifier Matrix and how it works with the Combat Results Table.

The next game in the series is called The Grass Crown which deals with Rome and according to Tom the title of the game “…refers to the highest accolade that a Roman commander could receive, given by the men of a legion to the man who had single handedly saved that legion, made from the grass at the site where it happened”.

Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: 

Here is a look at our video review of the game:

2. Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul from GMT Games

Mark Simonitch is a very talented designer! (understatement I know but its very true). His talents have given us many great games including the ’4X Series (Normandy ’44Ardennes ’44 and Holland ’44) and the great Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage and many others (The U.S. Civil WarFrance ’40, etc.). I am always amazed by his talents and the way he mixes a bunch of great mechanics together to make a very playable and enjoyable simulation of historical events. Well, he is now back to the Ancients after doing several World War II games and I couldn’t be more excited.

This game is very good at what it is trying to do, namely show how the Romans struggled to control and contain the Gallic Tribes as they attempted to subjugate the country. The main focus for the Romans is to meet their control objectives of the different regions in Gaul by simply having more control markers than the Gauls. This is much easier said than done though as their are Events that can be played by either side making their job easier or making it more challenging for the enemy. Players are dealt 7 cards at the start of each turn and use their cards to move their armies and place control markers. This is the crux of the game and it boils down to how you manage those cards in your hand to make them do what you need them to do.

There are lots of interesting tricks built into the Gallic player and one of those that we enjoyed the most was the Gallic Council Box. We referred to this box as the “Gallic Bomb” as the player places tribes in this box during the reinforcement step rather than on the map for future deployment in the right area at the wrong time for the Romans to create a wall of humanity to stop the Romans in their tracks. There is a lot of back and forth in this one as is common in these type of Card Driven Games and the strategies might take a while to develop and understand but when they are understood is when the real joy of the deign unlocks itself. For me, this was a greatly anticipated title and it truly didn’t disappoint but provides many hours of non-stop action and tug of war between the players.

Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: 

Here is a look at our video review of the game:

1. The Great Battles of History Vol II: SPQR The Art of War in the Roman Republic from GMT Games

I own the Deluxe Edition of this one and it is a beautiful monster with around 6 full counter sheets and 6 double sided maps with 19 scenarios. There is a lot of game here! I have only played the game on Vassal though with a few of the scenarios and have really enjoyed it. I must admit that this one is very deep and there are a lots of rules and exceptions based on the different units that are included in each scenario. I do feel that the rules could use some work but that concern does not sway me away from saying this system and the game itself are fantastic!

The game system really emphasizes the important role of command on the ancients battlefield. Leaders are the most important counters in the game and consequently without leader’s order, the player will find that their very powerful and important phalanx and legions will not be able to take any actions, even moving closer to the enemy.

One of my favorite rules from the game is the all important initiative. When in battle, the player will hold the initiative if you force your opponent to act first and can react on every move. Also, leaders are activated in their initiative rating order from lowest to highest. Leaders can issue individual orders up to their initiative rating to the units in command radius, or if specifically called for in the scenario, activate a whole line of units. Leader may also gain momentum, trying to take turn after the turn if passing their initiative checks. The game is really very playable, with some exceptions for rules that just are not as clear as they need to be, but this system takes into account what was most important on the battlefields of the ancient world.

Finally, elephants! Stampeding, out of control, powerful elephants. Not in all of the scenarios mind you but the presence of armored and charging pachyderms is really a highlight of some of these scenarios. When they are under control, the elephants can simply be brutal but the best part is that you ultimately lose control of them and their rage turns on everyone within reach of their hex, including your very own troops. I just loved how these rules were chaotic and interesting. Such a great way to deal with this aspect of ancient warfare. (You need the War Elephant module for SPQR for this.)

I will play SPQR at anytime and I know that there are other games out there that have a better following but for me Herman and Berg were a magnificent team to create these very interesting and unique scenarios.

Those were my 3 Favorite games on the Ancients. There are so many games out there on the subject and I am always going to play new ones that come up so I am sure that this list will change in the future. What games do you like on Ancients?

-Grant