Friday Night Book of War

Here's the household game from last weekend, which happened to involve a lot of pikes and missile units:

Start -- Basic Rules; 200 points. What I've done (at bottom, in red) is take 25 figures of pikes and 15 light crossbows. These are among the cheapest units in the game (cost 5 each), so there's a good many figures on the board for this point-level. I used the same army previously against my good friend BostonQuad, serving him one of the most crushing defeats seen to date (he came at me using all light cavalry, with bad results). Opposition has actually guessed what I might use tonight (based on my blog topics for the week), and has therefore entirely forgone any cavalry -- she's picked a big unit of heavy crossbows (top left) and a whole bunch of light infantry, arranged in small skirmish-type units (top right). Terrain is 1 Hill and 2 units of Woods (plus one "Open" result, which had no effect on the board). I have set up and will move first.

Turn 1 -- At bottom, I've pushed all of my units as far forward as possible. In response, opposition has brought the heavy crossbows a full move forward (they're a bit slower, so couldn't entirely get up the hill), and something unexpected -- the light infantry have all done a right-face and moved in that direction, towards the heavy crossbows on the hill. No attacks were possible on this turn.

Turn 2 -- Disaster for blue! On my turn I've again pushed the pikes forward as far as possible -- in particular charging over the hill to attack the heavy crossbows. Note that in this location, pikes have no capacity for any special defensive strike (although they get the usual 1-die per figure attack on my turn). Crossbows on the right have made partial moves forward, shot down a few light infantry figures at medium range, and those units have both routed. Much more horribly for my opponent, the charging pikes eliminated 2 heavy crossbows, and they routed as well (their morale dice of 3 are shown in the picture; any roll of 4+ would have succeeded).

Turn 3A -- Blue is now in an atrocious position. Two units have run off the table, her other units are all clogged up in the top-left corner of the board (blocking each other), and I've struck the rear of the routing heavy crossbows, eliminating about half of them. Crossbows are picking off more infantry, and other pike units are boxing off any escape.

Turn 3B -- Blue's heavy crossbows have now routed off the table. Purely in desperation, she has sent several units of light infantry at my pikes, just off the northern edge of the hill. The infantry on the left flank managed to kill 2 of my figures; but the infantry from the right-front ran into my double-defensive attack, and they all perished.

Turn 4 -- Those hard-charging pikes have now attacked towards the top left, and killed all of the light infantry unit there. Crossbows have killed all of the unit that tried to attack my rear at the base of the hill, and other units are closing in, too. Opposition has only one unit of light infantry remaining, near the left edge of the board. With blue in a clearly hopeless position, we agreed to end the game at this point (presumably that last infantry escapes off the board-edge). Victory for me! Although, in compensation I have to pay for Chinese tonight, do all the dishes, and clean the cat's teeth.

Postscript -- What you've just witnessed is the single most-lopsided Book of War game that any of us have ever seen. Ultimately it was that abysmal morale-check for the big heavy crossbow unit on Turn 2 that snapped the opposition's backbone, and her best chance against my pikes. I think the main lesson we can take from this game is that (a) the combined pike/crossbow force is clearly the best in the game, and (b) I am a frankly brilliant strategist and wargamer. (Although there's some disputing opinion that I've gotten immensely lucky 2 weeks in a row; keep in mind that over the summer my girlfriend won 10 games in a row without me being able to beat her once. But I'll call that a minor detail.)

There are, however one or two other lessons here about Book of War play. In most cases, aggression is rewarded; getting the first hit and at least forcing the opponent to roll a morale check is very desirable. And regarding pikes, although their listed special ability is purely defensive, this actually makes them a fantastic offensive weapon. Their move rate is high (12") , so you can rapidly close towards the enemy (like here: getting through the woods before they could be caught there), and the opposition rarely wants to deal with them frontally. So although the defensive benefit is almost never actually triggered (think Chainmail), the enemy tries to get away from them and is thus thrown into disarray. Frequently you get a free single attack by the pikes, and then the enemy opts to run instead of fighting back (and this is exactly the sort of action described by Plutarch at the Battle of Pydna, etc.).

Note that I was even willing to send the pikes attacking up the hill, where they would lose their defensive benefit, which tends to surprise opposing players. In this particular case that shouldn't have worked; I expected the heavy crossbows to succeed morale and then melee, with greater numbers and heavier armor, winning the hill from the pikes. But while that played out they wouldn't have been shooting, and I could move against the rest of her army. As it turned out, that one aggressive stroke was fundamentally all that was necessary to win this particular game.

One other thing: For simplicity, Book of War handles only homogenous units (no mixing different types in the same unit), but you can still arrange a line of missile troops behind infantry and get them to work together, as an emergent property of the archery rules (see how I arranged pikes & crossbows on my starting left in the first picture). Archers can fire over another unit at -1 to hit (and this penalty would go away if they get on a hill at a higher altitude, which you may notice I was running for; see BOW p. 7). Missile attacks back would be at -1, and also have half the attack dice applied to the infantry close in front (acting by default as a kind of "shield man"). But this happened to not come into play in this game.

Maybe I shouldn't be publicly releasing my strategy tips like that, but feel free to thank me later if they work to your advantage. :-)


  1. I'm really enjoying these battle reports and the feel of the system. Looking forward to more.

  2. Like Fabian, I am really enjoying these reports. Thank you (and my copy is being printed at the Lulu factories as we speak). I'm just hoping to be able to find someone to play the game with. Your rules might (almost certainly will) replace my current favorites, WRG Ancients 6th edition and DBx/HotT.

    Question of the moment: how does BoW handle spell users? Or is that something you're working to put in a supplement?

  3. Love it! But when do we get to see some ogres or the like? Or maybe a giant? :)

    I'm planning on ordering after Christmas &the New Year. With 4 kids and Yule fast approaching (and 2 with birthdays!), my fundage is tied up.

  4. Thanks so much for the comments, guys!

    There is an "Advanced Rules" section which does handle fantasy types (elves, ogres, etc.), high-level heroes, and wizards. Thus far in the blogs I've just concentrated on the "Basic Rules" only (historical stuff). Also, I seem to lose more often playing by Advanced Rules, so perhaps I'm dragging my feet presenting that stuff. :-)

  5. My Balacing Intuition tells me that Pikes' move speed being the same as Light Troops is wrong. I know that historically Swiss Pikes were very fast movers, but still, Pikes being "among the cheapest units in the game" doesn't...FEEL right.

    Also, can you speak to the reason you decided to make your Treant unit a stand of TEN Treants (80HD at man-to-man!) rather than just having a single Treant with 1 scale HD?

    1. Pretty good questions. The pike move is purely based on their armor, and borrowed directly from Chainmail & D&D; that's one of those core compatibilities that I wouldn't want to lose. Perhaps the better question is whether their cost is too low (always the hardest part of the design); actually in the games we're current playing I have re-balanced stuff and bumped their cost up to 6 (while keeping light infantry still at 4 and medium sword-board infantry still 5), so I did come around to your thinking there.

      The rule in BOW is that to appear as a solo figure you need to have 10 HD maximum, to be equivalent to 10 men with 1HD each (and even that's being charitable, because high HD are actually deflated in value). It's similar to the groups-of-10 figures that we use in the book for trolls, hill giants, expansion elephants, etc.

  6. That should read " '...in the game' AND fleet-of-foot doesn't feel right"...