Saturday 11 September 2021

Micro Ancient - A trip down memory lane

My first exposure to ancients gaming was the old Tabletop Games Micro Ancient game. This was part of the Micro Warfare series that covered warfare from the ancients period through to WW1 naval. It came in an A5 sized ziplock bag and contained a simple rules set and two army cards to cut out and use. The base game modelled a battle from the Punic Wars. The two army cards were a Republican Roman army of around 22000 men and a Carthaginian army of around 30000 men. You had to cut out the unit counters and could then play games on any flat surface. Terrain would generally be templates cut from card. The cool thing was that this set was cheap enough to be affordable, and that here was a supplement with Normans, Saxons (Anglo-Danish really) and (most importantly of all) Vikings. Just the ticket for a cash-strapped youth.

Romans (purple) versus Carthaginians (red)

The rules required you to track actual losses in each unit, so the unit counters had unique identifiers for every counter and you needed a roster to track these things. I know I tried the game a couple of times as a teenager around 1980 or so, but I cannot remember what I thought of it. I have vague recollections of being a bit confused about things because I was not an experienced gamer at that time. That confusion probably led to the game being put away. I also have no idea what happened to my copy of the game. I may have traded it away or it may have been destroyed or lost as a result of the various vicissitudes of life. Either way, I no longer have my original copy.

Enter Hurlbat Games. They released the game along with its supplements as a pdf download from WargameVault in 2012. I noticed this at some point recently and was struck by nostalgia, so I bought a copy of the base game and the Normans, Saxons (and of course) Vikings supplement. I printed out the armies onto label paper and stuck that onto matte board to make slightly more robust counters than the original game. I then spent a happy weekend cutting out the counters and edging the coloured ones with Sharpie markers to make them look a bit neater. There is something quite peaceful about this activity, much more so than painting figures to my mind.

Vikings (black) face off against an Anglo-Danish (blue) army

The end result was that I now had five armies for Micro Ancient. I suppose I should read the rules and set up a game soon. First, though, I need to make terrain. Fortunately, I have a large sheet of cardboard in the flat that protected the table I shall be playing on when it was delivered. Time to dig out the scissors and cut out some randomly oval templates. Using the Sharpie markers I can mark crestlines for hills and draw on tree or rough ground symbols for other terrain. I'll maybe need some roads and rivers too, but there is plenty of cardboard for all of those.

The Anglo-Danish (blue) army defends a hill from the Norman (purple) army

One thing that I find particularly interesting is the presence in both the Viking and Saxon/Anglo-Danish armies of mounted contingents. In recent years, I have seen and been involved in some quite heated debates about the presence of cavalry in both Anglo-Danish and Viking armies, so it is particularly interesting to see mounted combat units in these armies in a game from 1976. Personally, I think that half the problem here is 19th-century antiquarianism/historiography and the other half is the terminology. The second you talk about 'cavalry', people get in their heads permanent formations of mounted combat troops and this obscures the probable reality of elite warriors who could fight mounted or dismounted as needed, like the medieval knights of whom they were the forebears both socially and literally. But, that is an argument for another time.

So, what next? Well, I really do need to try the game out again and see what I think of it. It would be awesome if it worked well. As a readily portable game set, it suits my needs beautifully and does not require a huge area to play on. It also has me wondering about using the counters with other miniatures rules sets, or making counters of the right size for those other games. It also has me wondering about Kriegsspiel blocks and whether I would find 18th-century warfare as interesting to play out using counters or blocks. The flexibility of having a red army and a blue army without worrying about uniform details appeals a lot. We'll see. I need to get these bad boys deployed in simulated anger first, and see how the reality matches up to my nostalgia.