The First In Holland? We Played Mortem & Gloriam, Ancients Wargaming

A short impression

Yesterday Maarten, Paul, Huub, new players Carlos& Ruben and me played a game of Mortem & Gloriam. We replayed Chareoneia, 338 BC, an antique battle between Filippus and his son the young Alexander the Great vs Allied Greek city states.

Paul introduced the game to us and was an excellent host, with Huub as his steward. I think that we’re the first gamers in Holland who have played this game. Haven’t seen battle reports from fellow Dutch wargamers so far. So this was a first.

The game was introduced in 2016. Recently writer Simon Hall struck a deal with the Plastic Soldier Company and a polished 2nd edition was published this year. As a ruleset it’s slowly gaining ground. The combination with PSC Ultracast 15mm cheap plastic miniatures from excellent Xyston and Corvus Belli white metal molds might make Ancients cheap and fashionable again.

I like ancients and play mostly De Bellis Antiquitatis so I’m interested in the more advanced variants. I have ambitious plans to compare M&G, DBA, FoG and AdlG some time. So I will probably write a full review. Not now. A first tryout is not enough for a serious review. I will share my first impressions.

The battle we played: Chareoneia

In our club archives we found a 2300 year old documentary, made by the great Macedonian kínematoon Quentintarantinotos, about this great battle. He enscribed stone tablets with pictures of the battle, 24 per minute, and by moving them quickly near a candle we were able to watch an incredible théatron. Check the live pictures!

Meeples & Miniatures reviewed the game. Writer Simon Hall was previously a co-author of the Field of Glory rules, which were published by Osprey Publishing. I regard Field of Glory as a descendant of Phil Barkers DBA. Hall writes in his preface that he is standing ‘on the shoulders of giants’, that he played every version of DBA and DBMM and he thanks Phil Barker. Of course – what would he Ancients hobby be without him?

Hall wants to bring to hobby to new generations – modernize it. In my opinion, M&G is a nicer, more modern version of DBx.

For those who don’t know DBA: DBA is an ancients wargame with 12 units per side. All units have a standard simple movement rate, measured in basewidths, and combat modifier. Units are (often) strong vs unit A (horse vs skirmish troops) but weak vs unit B, C or D (horse vs pike): very rock, paper, scissors. Combat is simple, a D6 + modifier + side or back supporting unit. A player moves 1-6 ‘groups’ each turn, depending on a dice roll. Games can be played in one hour on a small table and the game is very well suited for a competion or a tournament. Athough out of fashion I consider it a superior game, a kind of wargame chess, simple rules, fast, but subtle and complex.

Because players wanted larger, longer and more complex battles Barker designed DBM and DBMM as more ‘advanced’ variants. These games lost followers and fail to attract new gamers. In the past 15 years, Bodley-Scott, Hall and others developed FoG and French designer Caille wrote Art de la Guerre.

I regard all these new rules as Next Generation DBA. Old giant Barker and his wife Sue, both in their eighties, will not reach teenagers or twentysomethings with their rules. The twentyfirst century wargamer wants a hardcover bling-bling book and a phone app. Barker’s English is formal, not casual like many modern rule designers.

The basic Dbx system, a combat results table, a limited number of groups that can be moved per turn and a modifier for side/back support is still the core of the M&G-system. However Hall made some important changes:

  • he designed a pre-battle-game (that we didn’t use in our introductory game)
  • instead of a combat results table with higher/ lower modifiers, M&G has a system with coloured dice. Black dice are the worst and have many blank sides. Red dice are the best and have many instant kills. In combat, the unit with an advantage will use higher graded dice than the opponent.
  • instead of a fixed number of groups that a player can move, decided by a dice roll, a player draws command cards and can discard them, like poker. If he has bad cards he can only order a few or simple movements or less groups.

How we played the game

The game was phalanx like phalanx games should be. With a large phalanx. The Macedonians allowed themselves to be overlapped so their flanks were vulnerable. The Allied Greeks (my Allied Greeks) fought courageously. However, when we stopped (after 5 hours) the game was still a draw, but it was close and if we had played another 30 minutes one of the phalanxes had collapsed.

What I thought of this game

  • I liked it. Still I love the simplicity of DBA. Big Battle DBA (36 units, 3 players per side) will often meet my needs.
  • Rulebook looks good. Glamrock, the ancient way.
  • The coloured dice and cards might be ‘better’ than DBA. No need to check tables.
  • Instead, however, we often needed to check movement tables. Can my drilled pikes with these green cards wheel twice or just once?
  • Instead of a DBA combat modifier and quick calculations based on a combat results table we calculated the ‘better’ or the ‘worse’-graded dice. Not less simple or less complex than Barkers DBx-system, only different and more tangible.
  • The result was ‘historical’ and ‘believable’. I regard battles between a phalanx of riot police and hooligans as modern variants of these old Greek phalanx battles. Storm the line until one of the groups is exhausted.
  • The scenario was probably too slow and the rules too complex for Ancient-starters Carlos and Ruben. If you introduce new players, give them the quick and the dead, not the slow and the persistent.