Ancient Miniatures and thoughts on rules

28 Apr
Ancient Miniatures and thoughts on rules

Today I want to show you something that I have going on as a side project if you like… Ancients. Ancients and especially (Early Imperial) Romans have intrigued me for a long time. Those steady blocks of infantry in gleaming armour, those ragged lines of the (commonly known as) barbarians… all this has a certain charm. I always shied away from it due to the numbers of minis and resulting costs involved. That changed a couple of years ago when Warlord came out with their plastic Romans and Celts and I took the leap. I think you still need a lot of metal minis, but the basic cost sure has come down. Right now it is lingering a bit for two reasons, but more on that later. Lets start with the Romans:

Roman veterans

Roman veterans

These are what Warlord sells as Veterans (I have replaced the damaged shields with mint ones). I do not think that there is anything like a “veteran unit” within a Legion per se. I guess if there is something like that, it would be the first cohort and that is what these men will represent with my forces. In fact these minis do not really stand apart from the other Warlord Romans since they are virtually the same minis… They just have Manicae armour on their right arm, but this is about the only thing. The Centurio (since these men represent the first cohort the Primus Pillus) and Optio are metal minis and I sculpted the Manicae on to make them fit in. The Signifier and Cornicen are conversions, too. l sculpted crocodile vests and helmet covers onto them, inspired by the one that can be seen in the British Museum in London. So at one time my Legion must have served in Egypt. Otherwise I used black shield transfers from LBMS instead of the normal red ones that come with the minis.



These are the Warengines. Four Scorpio catapults and two Ballistae. What you might be able to see it better on these photos… I have opted for red tunicas with my Romans.  I know most historians these days agree that they were white, but I wanted the classic look I have gotten to know from movies in my youth.

Balearic Slinger

Balearic Slinger

These are the Balearic Slingers. Now back when I dipped my toe into this project (which for me usually means buying vast amounts of minis) these were the only slingers available. Back then I did not feel like mixing with other manufacturers, plus I am not even sure any other company did Legionary slingers in 28mm. So I made do with them, even though I felt they were too high-profile for what I had in mind. But I might one day add some Legionary slingers now that Warlord actually released some.

Roman command

Roman command

And the current command. Two Tribunes and the Aquilifer. While the minis above were done with the Armypainter, I wanted these to stand out a little more, so they were painted the classic way. As were the next minis.





Again these have more of a Hollywood look. Mainly because I wanted them to look menacing. So their armour is a dark gun-metal black with bronze inlays, black tunicas and horsehair crest. The one you can see in the background with the red and white crest is meant to be the Optio. I felt tit hard to set him apart without going for different colours in a unit where everyone is wearing a crest.

Next up re their opponents, the Celts (although I also have minis for Parthians lying around as well):



These are the warriors. Right now a wild mix of “normal” warriors, naked fanatics, fighting women a few Druids and slingers. Many of these were done with the Armypainter again, with the more characterful minis done a classic way.Hope your are able to make out some details on this photo (all photos are linked to larger versions by the way)!

Celt chief

Celt chief

And their chief. I really liked this mini when Foundry announced it in 2009 and wanted to buy it at Salute. I could not though since [quote:] “We do not sell specific minis at shows!”. I wonder what I was supposed to buy… something I did not specify or in turn want? Bought it via their website together with a huge batch of Napoleonic Russians when they had a sale later that year, although I had to go via an intermediary in the UK due to the well-known fact that they force you to buy in Euro, but work with exchange rates from the time when Margret Thatcher with still Prime Minister.

Unfortunately the minis themselves were not any more pleasant to paint since the minis lacked detail and were generally quiet wooden. Plus he faces and especially the eyesockets were a pain in the behind.

Celt Chariots

Celt Chariots

Celt Chariots

Celt Chariots

These are the Chariots for the Celts. Looking at the photos now it dawns on me, that the left hand one on the second photo still needs a warrior to ride in it!

And this is the level where this project has stood for about two years now. Why? Well for one thing, this project is mainly being painted by my better half and she has had too much to do with work and courses she has to take for work to paint at all during those past two years. The other thing is rules, since I am quite undecided which ones to use. Most ancient rules call for quiet specific basing and I would not want to rip everything off its bases once I have decided on a different set of rules (it might be bad with those minis I have painted and based as singles so far anyway). So let’s go through my thoughts on rules, shall we:

Most important for me is that the rules give a real life feel and that the results should be realistic. The rules should also reward the use of real life tactics, making forces the most effective if used like they were historically meant to. But they should also be fun and easy to play without bogging you down with excessive charts and rule-reading during play.

Now i have decided against Warhammer Ancients, Hail Caesar and DBA / DBx. Warhammer is too much Warhammer for my taste (I never liked the basic concept too much) and too little history. Hail Caesar falls in much the same category for my taste. It lacks some of the power gaming aspects of Warhammer, but is too much on the fun side and too little on the historic simulation side for my taste. DBA / DBx is geared way too much towards tournaments and being able to pit any force against any other even if the never met in history. So having ruled these out, which ones are in the running right now?

Field of Glory

FOG is quiet well know since it hit the market a couple of years ago. While it also allows you to pitch forces against one another that never met in history, it lacks the extreme tournament feel of DBA / DBx. The fact that you need a large tabletop to play chariots or cavalry in 28mm is not really a problem for me. The people I play with use it in 15mm as well (in fact we played yesterday evening) so I wold have a ready base of players. Plus it seems to lead to some good historic results.

On the other hand, I feel that the rules are quiet complex and complicated. Some of my friends have a good number of games under their belts and still there was a fair amount of rules reading involved yesterday. The tables are complex and the text not always easy to comprehend either. (I make a living by understanding texts that are anything but easy to comprehend, so this last aspect means something.) Plus they are very much geared towards terrain being re-arranged at the beginning of the game. I like games that look good and terrain that is that easy to shuffle around does not look too pleasing anymore IMHO.


Just like FOG they have created a huge fellowship in recent year, especially here in Germany. So it should be easy to find players as well. From what I have seen the results seem as realistic, but the rules are easier to play. What I really like are the bases, which allow you to create little dioramas, which would cater for my visual preferences.

The downside I see is, that each unit is represented by only one base. So there are no formation changes, so tactics only come from the way you arrange and move your units, not from formation changes. Although I am not too sure if there was actually as much formation flexibility in ancient times as some rules give us.

Ager Proelii

Now these were published recently in Miniature Wargames 345 by James Roach. I am deeply impressed by the AARs on his blog. While these are geared towards the Punic Wars period, it seems not too hard to adapt them to Early Imperial Roman (something James confirmed). They are easy and fast, yet seem to lead to quiet realistic results as well. A bit plus is that these rules are not too strict on basing and Impetus style basing would work for them as well.

If there is one downside to them, it is th fact tha they are little known and that it might be hard to get people to play.

Roman Optio

Roman Optio

Other rules

Now other rules I have eyed were “Crusader” and “Clash of Emprires”, but honestly… I can not really comment on them.

So what do you people think? I know a lot of you readers play ancients as well, so what are your observations? Please let me know, since it might help me make a decision!

Roman Centurio

Roman Centurio


28 responses to “Ancient Miniatures and thoughts on rules

  1. Scott MacPhee

    April 28, 2012 at 16:30

    Like you, I have been searching for realistic ancients rules. The problem I keep running into is that no one can quite agree on how ancient battles were fought. How much command and control was there? How flexible were formations? Surely a commander could control his initial deployments, but once the fighting started, how much was he realistically able to control?

    In many ancient armies, the commander fought in the front rank. I would think that he has ceded all control of troop movements to his pre-battle plan and the ability of his subordinates to execute it. We have an image of the Roman commander, mounted, well in the rear, with aides and couriers riding off to coordinate movements. That may be. But it’s problematic even for the Romans, and it seems unknown in Greek and Macedonian warfare.

    I like Ager Proelii because of the randomness of the card sequence, which I think allows for battles that reflect the uncertainty of ancient warfare.

    When we leave battle strategy and look at tactics, the picture is even murkier. There are significant scholarly disagreements on how troops fought, how their formations and battle drill actually worked. The consensus views on, say, hoplite warfare or the Roman manipular system are themselves problematic and based on interpretations of very limited sources.

    All of which is to say that a quest for “realistic” ancients rules may be impossible to achieve. What aspects of ancient warfare are you hoping to model? If it is the grinding nature of infantry combat, I like Field of Glory. If it is the sudden reverses of fortune, I like Ager Proelii. If you just want to have an enjoyable game with well painted models, I like Warhammer Ancient Battles or its descendant, Clash of Empires.

    • Burkhard

      April 29, 2012 at 10:37

      Well just an enjoyable game with miniatures is not all I am after. Of course it should be fun, but not leaving historical accuracy aside. What else am I trying to model. Well combat should be bloody since I think itmwas that way by default back then. But since one is being the commander of an army or battle it should refoect combat from their perspective. As you have said it is hard to imagine that commanders back then really had this detailed command of battle that many rules seem to give them, so randomness would be good for me.

  2. Dean Motoyama

    April 28, 2012 at 16:42

    Excellent work, as always, Burkhard. I pretty much stick to WAB for Ancients – I’ve played them the most, so comfortable with the rules. That said, I hope to eventually try out Hail Caesar – I love Black Powder for Napoleonics, so would like to see how it works for Ancients.

  3. Bob Hathaway

    April 28, 2012 at 17:09

    Have your troops based for more than 1 set of rules and be a little flexible. Their are to many good sets of rules out their on the market today. I really like your choice of shield transfers! oldbob

    • Burkhard

      April 29, 2012 at 10:32

      Thanks Bob! From the comments here I am starting to lean either towards Impetus or Ager Proelii since by peoples discribtions they seem to fit me needs the best and would work with a similar type of basing.

  4. Ray

    April 28, 2012 at 18:30

    Some great eye candy, love the pose of the Optio. I own 15mm rep Romans and Carthaginians and have never played a game with them, because like everyone else, I can’t find a set I’m truly happy with????? I don’t know what the answer is?????

    • Burkhard

      April 29, 2012 at 10:39

      THX Ray. I will obviously keep you posted on how my search goes!

  5. BigRedBat

    April 28, 2012 at 21:09

    Hi Burkhard,

    I’m big into Ancients but also struggle to find a set of rules. Latest attempt has been Hail Caesar, which are quite fun, but which are extraordinarily badly written and have gaps large enough to drive a war-wagon through. The lack of a set of rules I really like has contributed to my 6 month wargames drought.

    Do let me know how you get on, I’m definitely up for a new set, m’self.

    Cheers, Simon

    • Burkhard

      April 29, 2012 at 10:29

      I will do so Simon! That is the good thing about blogging… You can keep peopel up to date on things like these.

  6. Shaun Travers

    April 29, 2012 at 05:40

    I know the feeling about rules. I have been searching for a fast play set for a small table for a few years that matches exactly what I am looking for. Some come close but having not found the holy grail, I am in the process of writing my own.

    • Burkhard

      April 29, 2012 at 10:28

      Looking at some of the other posts, our problem seems to be a common one. Although I am not at the point were I will comsider writing my own set of rules.

  7. Rob

    April 29, 2012 at 06:17

    I have multiple ancients armies in 15mm (Maurikian Byzantines, Seleucids, Spartans, various DBA) and working on 25mm Sassanians. All are based to WRG standards (variable base depths, but all 40mm wide in 15mm or 60mm wide in 25mm). I’ve found that is the most common

    The rule set I play is Might of Arms. I don’t know if you can get a set in print new (they were last printed in the 1990s), but you may be able to find one on ebay. Huns fight like Huns. Cavalry can break damaged infantry, but generally lose the slugfest. Well-drilled troops can maneuver (Romans, Byzantine and Sassanian cavalry) while most infantry can just go straight forward.

    Your tactical choices are pretty much centered around when you shoot and when you charge into melee. Generals have limited command and control responsibilities – basically, they allow units in good condition to charge without a morale check. If you send them into melee, they provide combat and morale benefits, but can be killed and lose their command and control abilities.

    You can fight a large battle to conclusion in several hours – or one if I’m playing the Huns . . . I am generally satisfied with how they play out and don’t plan to change rule sets unless I have to.

    • Burkhard

      April 29, 2012 at 10:26

      Sounds interesting, too. I have no problems with old rulesets as long as they are good. Will try to take a look at them, too (although I am not sure if more choice will make the decision easier ;-)).

  8. JJMicromegas (Imported post from TMP)

    April 29, 2012 at 09:49

    I like the fact that you used black transfers on your shields. I’m curious which legions were documented to be using black as a colour?

    As for rules, I have played both FoG and Impetus and right now our club chooses to play Impetus. The reason is that Impetus models the behaviour of ancients without getting into gritty details. FoG tends to bog down into POA’s cohesion tests whereas Impetus just kind of flows. The thing about Impetus is that the results can very wildly based on dice rolls. So whereas in FoG the outcome of a melee is more predictable, in Impetus is very unpredictable and this can throw some people off.

    The other thing is that Impetus plays fast, we can finish a large game in 3 hours, whereas we had issues with finishing a moderate sized game of FoG in that amount of time.

    I would recommend you give Impetus a try and remember that it’s not so much the tactics, weapons and nit-picky sort of formations (though there are large and standard formations)that it models but rather the behaviour of ancient units. It revived ancients gaming at our club after FoG almost all but killed it.

    I have a quite a few AAR’s on my blog if you’re interested:

    • Burkhard

      April 29, 2012 at 10:22

      Not sure which Legion had black shields (IIRC there is historical prove for any Roman shield colour), I Just liked the looks :-).
      I agree with the observations on FOG. In the game we played on Friday I had Greeks vs. Late Romans . To me it seemed like the Romans were so good on the initial clash, that all resulting combat was decided when the lines first touched.

  9. Phi Steele / Yesthatphil (Imported post from TMP)

    April 29, 2012 at 09:51

    Prefering to comment here rather than on your blog, if you have chums who play Field of Glory and you like it, job done.

    FoG is not a complex game, it is a simple game with a large number of simple rules included so every situation is (supposedly) covered.

    Played in a good spirit by simple folk it is a simple and very easy-going game. I find it plays very nicely as a ‘doubles’ or multi-player game.

    I don’t really like it as a tournament game.

    Impetus I think is a more complex game … but has fewer ‘cover everything’ rules. It is less flexible – and thus perhaps more authentic – but not to everyone’s taste.

    I prefer Armati – but not as a tournament game (where players have chosen to allow it to become formulaic and, I think, rather dull). Worth a look, especially in its ‘Intro’ format … but it needs a revision but there’s no sign of it getting one.

    Hail Caesar has a more ‘top down’ feel which I quite like, and it may be the way to go. It is good to see the advocates of the skirmishy sort of ancients game going in this direction.

    I like proper unit-to-unit battle based on historical scenarios, so I’ll not comment on the skirmish games and individually based system. Hits/wounds/saves/tests etc. Some people like them so they are the best to comment.


    • Burkhard

      April 29, 2012 at 10:23

      Maybe that is part of the problem… I have not really gotten to likem
      FOG so far, even if I have a ready player base. Plus I have this issue with the rearranging of terrain (which seems to come from the tournament idea).
      Maybe the less control element of Impetous would rahter suit my need for a period feel.
      I have not thought about Armati, but will try to give it a read as well.

  10. BigRedBat

    April 29, 2012 at 10:41

    I played a game or two of Impetus; didn’t entirely grab me but I might revisit it at some stage.

    FoG absolutely wasn’t my cup of tea, I knew inside an hour that I just couldn’t abide them! Too reminscent to me of the old WRG rules, for my personal taste. That isn’t to say they are a bad set of rules, just not the right ones for me.

  11. Monty

    April 29, 2012 at 15:39

    FoG and Impetus Ancients are almost all I play. In FoG, you can get in and running without fully digesting the nuance in the 140 pg rules BUT the detail is such that you’ll be checking the fine print frequently. Our club plays it exclusively and all the players two of us are long time ancients gamers. The detail appeals to the grognard in all of us but it come at some cost.

    I tried Impetus for the first time this January and wrote up a Test Drive AAR here:

    “There were many things I loved about Impetus but if I had to sum it up, I’d say I most loved its unpredictability. From the opening gun, events occur which force you to react in real time. I didn’t have perfect control over my troops and that felt just right commanding an impetuous knight army.”

    I look forward to following your Ancients adventure and how ironic is this? My buddy came over for a game of FoG yesterday afternoon and he brought the new FoG Napoleonics rulebook. He’s painting Prussians and as we talked, I could hear the siren song of the Napoleonic era crying out to me. As you move into ancients, I may be moving to dabble in Napoleonics!

    And, I love your figures!

  12. Ian Beal

    June 2, 2012 at 11:41

    For my own opinion i would go with impetus, in some ways the unit being one base works quite well, remember ancient and medieval battles, once contact had been made became very disorganised affairs, a mass of men hacking stabbing and falling over till one side broke and ran usually.

    As far as tactical changes go, i wouldn’t worry about it too much i like impetus and think they give a good game and make wargaming fun again and that is why we do this hobby let’s be honest.

    As Monty said as well, no general ever had complete faith or control over their army, the unpredictability built in adds to the general confusion of war and makes for more realism of how the period commanders reacted.

  13. Victor

    June 13, 2012 at 21:15

    Have you given any thought Piquet’s Archon rule set. James Roach is a member and player of the piquet group and I believe built his system around piquet basics.

  14. sculptingturtle

    December 13, 2012 at 12:20

    There are also the rules of skaldborg (shield wall) here:
    You might be interested. Great blog, excellent painting particularly with the centurion and the praetorians. 🙂

    • Burkhard

      December 19, 2012 at 20:40

      Thanks for the nice comments… I shall take a look at those, too!

  15. The Kiwi

    May 7, 2013 at 04:17

    Nicely painted army. I have recently been slowly building a Early Imperial Roman army with Warlord figures as well. I really like the Warlord plastics.

    • Burkhard

      May 7, 2013 at 07:46

      I agree, they offer great value for money (would even offer better value if I had not bought them when first released, but had waited till they did their Army Boxes ;-)) and for rank and file, the cookie cutter look is not that problematic.

  16. Justin Taylor

    June 13, 2013 at 08:02

    I will give you another set to consider, my own the Die is Cast

    Realism is indeed the aim, scale and basing independent.

    You can check out some battle reports to see how they play

    • Burkhard

      June 14, 2013 at 15:22

      Joe, I shall check them out over the weekend. Although I have to admit, that this project had to take a backseat for now!


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