Phalanx, an Ancient Battle Game (Philip A. G. Sabin)

Playings; 7 or 8 (2 1/2 hours)

Fame at last as ZOCo receives its 1st freebee game courtesy of Gareth Simon. Phalanx is a game kit published by the Society of Ancients at 2.50 or free to new members (12.50 a year to join in the UK). Even for game kits this is cheap, even if the graphics are pre-DTP and the ink on the counters tends to smudge. The 80 counters will need to be mounted, as will the sheet of terrain overlays if you don't want the hills blowing away. The 2 A4 maps are of cornflake box quality card which join down the centre to give a hexagon playing surface in the shape of a big hexagon 5 - 6 hexagons each side.

Not surprisingly for the Society of Ancients, Phalanx is a game of Ancient warfare, 36 scenarios are provided from 490 B.C. to 42 B.C. Phalanx appears to be aimed at the player who finds DBA too complex and too long. A scenario takes 15 to 20 minutes, including sorting out the counters and the rules cover 2 sides of A4, another 2 sides are filled with scenario details and waffle. An experienced gamer will be able to sort out the rules but any new (non-gaming) Society of Ancients player is going to be in trouble. We're talking layout problems, less money spent on cardboard and more pages overall together with a general re-write is recommended for a 2nd edition (I'll do it lads, nothing better to do). Note the absence of a terrain effects chart (sorely missed) plus a clumsy (and wrong, LI and LC cannot possibly move 1 hex as well as 2 or 1 every other move) unit capabilities table. On the layout front, why is much of movement under Command when some is under Movement, the rest under Terrain?

Having fought through the rules and got it wrong a few times, Phalanx lines up as a game of deployment, chaotics beware there is no element of chance. Each side has a camp slap in the middle of its home hexside from which 10 units emerge. All units must emerge from camp in turns 1 to 3, moving 1 or 2 hexes, if they don't get out in time they are lost. Aim is to destroy 4 of the opponents' units and not lose 4 friendlies at the end of the opposition's turn. The game will last 10 turns unless both sides draw for losses, frequently victory is achieved around turns 7 or 8. Play is strictly ordered and sequential, units move out from camp, form a line or blob and head for the enemy. Both sides may halt 2 hexes apart to dress lines and look for openings but that's all the finesse to be had. The size of the map does not allow wide flank marches although there is scope for some snipping at the edges.

Combat leaves nothing to chance, 3 units will destroy an infantry unit, 2 a cavalry unit. Some units have an attack or defense bonus adding to or subtracting from the total required, terrain gives a bonus to some troop types, flank attacks may help. Unfortunately the system allows units to gang up on the opposition just as in the worst (and some of the better) tactical boardgames. To be fair this also occurs in DBM, only more complex ancient rules allow bunging everything into big units which have to be ground down but eventually run away as a whole. The opposing lines chip holes in each other rather than gradually wearing down the whole formation. If the opposing blob can be split into more than 3 (2 for Greeks vs Greeks) chunks the excess are out of command and cannot move or attack. In practice an army split up like that is either under the control of an idiot or about to lose regardless of command.

With everything known, Phalanx should appeal to the draughts or chess minded gamer. Putting out the right units 1st and judging (not guessing) where to attack will aid victory. The scenarios vary in quality, with only 10 units per side they are abstract but troop types available plus terrain in use does vary. Those with more terrain and a range of troop types are most interesting. Philippi with 2 very similar Roman armies invites both sides to mirror each other. Conversely Carrhae offers some interesting variables, the Parthians can reach the Roman lines before all the Romans leave camp but the Roman foot can scythe through the Parthian horse. Most of the scenarios are not based on battles between equal forces but the unit total is always 10, units representing more men in poorer but larger armies. The difficulties of commanding large but expendable armies or small top of the line affairs are not considered.

Phalanx is available from Steve Neate, 50 Poundgate, Alton, Hants., GU34 2HL. It would appeal to ordered gamers and fill in a few minutes after a longer game. It does score over DBA in that all required to play is included in the bag but will be too short and too simple for some tastes.

Some bits and pieces to finish off, Geoff Barker has also seen Phalanx "I'm a member of the Society of Ancients and have scanned Phalanx but must admit I wasn't that impressed. I suppose it all depends on what you wanna get out of it." Phalanx was recently published in1 of the figures magazines with some glorious pictures of 6mm figures, bit of a sow's ear if you ask me