Words by Will Denham, MK Wargames Group
HOW DID I GET INTO ALL THIS?
The 1980s and that Airfix 'Holy Grail', the Waterloo set, fighting across my scrunched up duvet – and so it began. In late ‘80s, a pair of friends introduced me to Warhammer and I was off collecting 28mm Games Workshop figures. One fateful summer holiday, my Mum booked me onto a class at the local Adult Education centre, run by Ian Tanner of Shrewsbury Wargames Society. Over the course of a week, we tried Ancients, Renaissance, WW2 and Modern. Soon after, aged 14, I joined SWS, and started playing more. The club ran a ‘Participation’ competition each year, where random players would put on games for you to try. I had a go at a WRG 6th competition, with borrowed armies and no success and I followed that with a 1:3000th Modern Navwar fleet.
I joined in a campaign, set in Ancient times, and looking through the list of ‘loaner’ armies. My decision was made and I went for later Imperial Romans. This was a turning point in my life. I was studying Classics at ‘A’ Level, and the late empire became a massive interest. My research led to deeper understanding of the army, and spawned more armies and even more ideas…
The campaign we played was played in 6th or 7th edition WRG. It was all going well, but... battles were just not finishing. Then someone brought a copy of DBA to the club. It was a revelation: it was an incredibly simple rules set, which got a result and quickly. Gone were the complex tables of 6th and 7th: suddenly it was all down to one opposing dice roll and 12 bases! Armies of ancients were suddenly affordable which was essential for me as a poor student. My interest levels continued and consequentially I took a degree featuring Roman History at Lancaster, and a Masters in Roman Military History in Nottingham.
I carried on with ancients, but – after a while – my heart really was not in it. The DBX rules kept being altered, and the Romans, the most efficient army of the ancient world, did not play like Romans. Everyone suddenly had Cv(S) armies, which you could not catch. Romans were a characterless Bd(O) which never felt right to a historian.
OTHER RULES, OTHER WARS
Principles of War came along and I found a job lot of US Cavalry for Plains War on a Bring and Buy, and, for me, a whole new period was born. After I moved South I played at the Milton Keynes club. Between teaching and meeting the love of my life, I still gamed, but I ‘butterflied’ my way through Warhammer Historical, Crossfire WW2, and Napoleonic Principles. They never felt like armies. 12 figures to a unit never felt ‘big enough’. I wanted units to look like units. Then on to Flames of War, which I loved. But I realised that I was becoming what I disliked: someone who took playing too seriously. I needed another outlet to enjoy my hobby!
Out the blue, Barrie from Timecast called (a chap I had known since the ‘80s). He asked: Did I fancy a week in France, exploring the Franco-Prussian battlefields, Easter 2008? I saw it as a week eating good cheese and drinking great wine, however I knew nothing about the 1870-1 period. But on that trip I walked von Bredlow’s Death Ride, and marched the route of the Prussian Guard at St Privat. I was hooked. But where to go for figures?
Pendraken 10mm, was suggested as it was inexpensive (I had a young daughter at the time). I found they had one of the most comprehensive ranges I had seen, so I phoned Pendraken (no on-line shops in those days!), and Leon’s service was second to none. Subsequently, a package thumped onto my doorstep a few days later. Those first figures were a joy to research and paint, and they were so detailed (they have the national cockade sculpted on their pucklehaubes, it’s less than 0.5mm, but trust me, it’s there).
I loved the massed effect you could get on the base. You can make each regiment a diorama with roads, hedges, and casualties. This scale matches my painting style (lots of inks and highlights), and – with good basing – is very forgiving.
I used to buy pairs of armies, so that I could provide opposition. 10mm at first met with opposition – and puzzled questions – from friends around me, but now more players are seeing the benefit of the scale. Soon two friends agreed to join me in buying AWI, then two more bought Dark Age armies, and then Renaissance. Magister Militum also get a worthy mention here as fine figures and they are keeping me going with their Biblical range.
I have gradually worked out how to make them look good quickly, such as having had 10mm shield transfers made. I always painted my models, and I enjoy it as much as the gaming: it paid my way through Uni and for the band at my wedding! Now I paint 10mm for people – Simon Hall has just ordered Romans and Dacians.
I still wanted to play ancients after falling out of love with DBx in the late ‘90s. I had started building Imperial Romans, thinking of using Hail Caesar, when two close friends introduced me to Mortem et Gloriam. I was hooked.
After studying so many ancient battles, I could see that that the system worked and felt right! The colour system worked so well - you could never be exactly sure what each general would draw. It used factors for experience, ability and weapons, like 6th and 7th, but moved and flowed like an ancient battle should. Once you knew the few factors for your troops, it was easy to remember and easy to play. You rarely needed to even look at the Quick Reference Sheet. Units were in 4, 6 or 8 bases, so – with 10mm – 40-60 figures on six bases looks amazing.
I was an early ‘Spartan’ – one of the 300 who pre-ordered the first edition. I really enjoyed the events, as it was never too serious. With over 600 on-line lists, there are very few ‘stinkers’, and a huge diversity of choices. Plus the Romans feel like Romans. In addition, the support from the MeG team is outstanding.
Old friends would come over to say ‘hi’, joking at my 10mm armies beating up 15mm ones, and then sticking around to see how it worked. Soon they were seen walking around with the rules, Facebooking or WhatsApping to ask advice. People were travelling from the other end of the country just to watch games and to try it. It felt great to be on the ground as the movement took off.
Now with the MeG Compendium we have Pacto, a scaled down version where it is possible, just like those early days of DBA, to carry a whole army in a box in one hand. And you will still have a great game and – if they are in 10mm – they still look like units.
MeG events have a fun feel and are not too competitive – the rules aren’t fiddly so there is little to disagree about. Every event I have attended has been really enjoyable. There were 18 in the UK last year. People don’t take things too seriously – hence me being able to use 10mm vs 15mm. The author himself borrowed my Asterix, Obelix, Getafix and Vitalstatisix as generals for his Gallic army.
Just before the lockdown, I played at BadCon in Burton-upon-Trent. 16 of us played MeG, 500BC – 500AD. First point of interest is that seven of us brought Romans! That really does show that Romans feel like Romans in MeG; and, by the way, the seven different eras of Romans all feel very different as well. I opted for the Imperial Romans from 406CE. On top of four very different types of Romans, we had Qin Dynasty, China, Asiatic Successor, two Western and Eastern Han lists, Spartans, a Graeco-Bactrian and an Ancient British. Truly an eclectic mix! Here is my army.
My army has limited command with three generals (you can have four) and one is mediocre (the lowest grade). Generals get a different number of coloured command cards/discs according to their grade with a maximum of 5 and minimum of 2. My generals are a 4/3/2 version: a bit light.
Saving on generals has allowed me to have lots of legionaries including some exceptionals (most troops in MeG are average, some superior and rarely exceptional). With 2 superior and 1 exceptional legio I was hoping to do some fine gladius work in extended melees. All my “units” have 6 bases and are stacked with useful characteristics:
- Melee Expert –a bonus in an extended melee.
- Shield Cover – a benefit against missile fire, but that slows them down.
- Shoot & Charge – throw a volley as part of a charge.
- Integral Shooters –a bonus if they are themselves being charged.
- On the right you will see PBS and Scouting:
- PBS (Pre-Battle-System) is about what happens in the 5 days before the battle. A clever invention that means better generals tend to do better at choosing the site of the battle.
- Scouting is about if you see a proportion of enemy army before you deploy.
My army is quite good at controlling where it fights but tends to be outscouted by enemies.
Here is a synopsis of how we did along with a few salient points about MeG along the way.
GAME 1: FOEDERATE ROMANS
Robin Spence brought his award-winning army (after coming in 3rd at the MeG European championships and winning best painted at Badcon with it too), but with a Hunnic ally. It was beautifully painted. A very different Roman army to my own.
The PBS had the terrain fall on my side. Alas I completely fluffed my deployment, with all my good units too far right between a wood and the table edge. Robin avoided them and concentrated a strong force on my left. It was not long before Robin was putting me under severe pressure. I managed to neutralise Robin’s strength in cavalry, but my punch had evaporated in the process and two legions were lost. But I did sack his camp. 10-6 to Robin (max is 15).
My deployment mistake combined with my choice of a poor command structure set me up to lose the game – a fair result. The pace of MeG is fast, so recovering from that combination was difficult. You get what you pay for in MeG and I took a risk with the mediocre general. That came to haunt me with a rare double BLACK stalling him for a turn.
GAME 2: IMPERIAL ROMAN
Another Roman civil war. James Hamilton (‘Hammy’) and I have been friends since Warfare 2009, so I was looking forward to it as we don’t get to play often.
We had quite a bit of terrain and a forest in the centre that would cause Hammy some significant headaches. Deployment had Hammy spread his forces fairly evenly with me focusing centre and right, with just one unit of legionaries on the left to get in his way. I pushed hard on the right but was again inhibited by a lack of command cards. Thankfully my lone unit on the left held out superbly buying me time. My exceptionals had switched into loose order to fight in the wood (MeG has flexibles which allow some troops to switch their formation). They caught a Palatina unit and then some cavalry. On the right my superiors almost made it to his Palatina, but his darts slow me just enough to avoid a crunch (another novel concept called the slowing effect of fire). A desperate flank charge by Hammy failed to make enough of an impact. A rare 15-0 Triumph to me - off to ride a chariot down Rome high street.
This was an amazing game, helped by getting it right at the right moments, and Hammy having some unlucky dice rolling. My quality troops did what they do best and my heroic holding unit on the left bought us time to do so. Without flexibles I couldn’t have attacked on the left as the terrain would have diluted the power of my legionaries – so another tick for MeG and its realism.
GAME 3: LATE REPUBLICAN ROMAN
Time to face the ultra-hard legions of the Late Republicans and Caesar’s famous Legio X (so now the enemy have some exceptionals too).
Stephen Stead (my opponent) took a lot of open terrain and I was left with an abutted wood and village on my centre table edge. We both focused on one half of the battlefield. Stephen’s army had a Numidian ally - in MeG these are as scary as they were in history, javelins but skilled shooters (my shield cover was going to be important). My own cavalry attempted to pin back the masses of these allied cavalry to buy time; but were gradually worn down by their shooting. I swung two average legions left to intercept Steve’s superior (hoping to catch the poor reserve legion, and maybe his camp). Alas my exceptionals proved rather ineffective. My average legions were taking a battering in the line. Those facing Steve’s exceptionals succumbed suddenly and one of my battered superiors broke from a charge by a reserve average legio. At the same time both my cavalry collapsed, and my army routed! A 15-6 to Stephen.
Another corker of a game – I find they usually are in MeG as the mayhem and pace keep it exciting. I was close to breaking two more units which would have given me the win instead – so the battle was very close indeed. I didn’t feel it was a lost cause until the very end.
GAME 4: WESTERN HAN CHINESE
I felt this army was something of a bête noire – lots of horse archers that take some work to pin down with an infantry army. At least with shield cover I could neutralise a lot of the threat from archers.
Nik Gaukroger (the Han commander) played open ground to keep good going for his cavalry. I got a decent selection of terrain on my baseline with a village centre and a little into the table. The deployment was a swarm of horse archers. I had two options, come out and fight, or hide in the town and woods. The MeG scoring system encourages positive play rather than passive draws, so I had to find a way to try to win or go down in blaze of glory. My exceptionals were being pin-cushioned by Nik’s bow fire from very early in the game. Nik threw a mass of cavalry round the village, with a view to sweeping into my army from the rear. I spread out my superiors to plug the gap to the town, and slowly trudged forwards under the weight of arrows - using shield cover to protect me. Nik skilfully concentrated six white shooting dice on a single legion, and got 6 X results (a little over a 1 in 1000 chance of this). My superiors were shot to a standstill, losing all movement speed and 3 bases! With continuing good shooting my army finally collapsed under the wheels of the charging 4-horse chariots running down their line from the flank.
A difficult challenge to face well played by Nik – his early decisive swing around the village was deadly. I also had some bad luck for sure.
This was an attempt to give readers a flavour of the game system in progress. My personal scores were 27/60 for the weekend, and 8th overall and I had a smashing time. Four great games: the two losses were fun as well! I took a risk with my command structure: 9 command cards are too few. I might try with 4 generals and see how many bases I have to sacrifice. The superior and exceptional legionaries are seriously good if you can get them into an extended melee. It really did feel very Roman – the army depends on getting the legionaries in and buying the time for them to do their best work. They finally got caught out facing a horse archer army on a plain once I advanced to attack them – feels realistic.
A HEARTY RECOMMENDATION
MeG is fantastic fun and has some really innovative mechanisms and ideas that make it feel right. The army character comes to life in ways they haven’t in previous rule sets. Just taking my personal notes away from this weekend: a) Numidians were a real problem - as they were in reality, b) the flexible invention worked superbly with my legions and the Huns, c) the pace of the game allowed Nik to envelop me with a horse army, and d) shield cover really gave me the feeling of my Romans locking their large shields to protect them from arrows and darts.
Romans are good in MeG which has often not been the case – Stephen went on to finish second with his Late Republican Roman. Give MeG a go. I think that it’s almost impossible not to enjoy it. And – if you try it with 10mm – it looks amazing too!
This article originally appeared in issue 448 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.