Wargaming: Down Sumeria way, sometime around 2000 BC

18 January 2023
South of the Border

Words and pictures by Jon Sutherland.


The power and dominance of cities come and go. Your city and the surrounding territory exist because of the power of your patron god. In times past, when cities went to war over land, it was swiftly resolved with a sharp fight; the respective gods reconciled and so too did the people.

Things are... different now. The Ensi (the High Priest Governor) and the Lugal (King or Warlord) have conscripted all able-bodied men to support the Lugal’s household contingent. You face an existential threat in the form of highly skilled warriors from the river Tigris and the city of Ashur. They seem hell-bent on overwhelming you and subsuming you into their empire.

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Less than a hundred years ago, the Third Dynasty of Ur was born out of the ashes of the Akkad Empire. You are Ur-Nammu of Ur, who – together with Utu-Hegal of Uruk – defeated the Gutian King Tirigan. You established your kingship of Sumer and Akkad as the new Sumerian Empire. You have a hard-core of full time soldiers (Aga-ush), bolstered by levies and militia (Erin). The Gishgigir is your strike force: two wheeled battle-carts yoked to four wild asses.

Rather than suffer a siege, you have marched into the border lands to face the Assyrians as they emerge from the scrub land.


This is an encounter game in the wilderness with very little terrain. A handful of small low level hills, scrub and rocky areas were used to break up the flat surface, but played no role in the movement (or indeed acting as cover).

The lack of shields for the Sumerians is a major issue, so we need to mitigate this in some way; either by downsizing the Assyrian forces or preventing their army from fully deploying from turn one. The comparative firepower is also an issue and the Assyrians can outshoot the Sumerians, the Sumerian player is encouraged to close with the Assyrians at the earliest opportunity and press home their chariots as the decisive wing of the army.

I have split the mechanics involved in determining what arrives when on the battlefield (and in what kind of state). This first thing to determine is the impact of the march on the two armies before they even encounter one another. Roll a d6 with each player rolling for the impact on their own forces:


Moving into difficult terrain can often have a detrimental impact on units; each player needs to roll to see if any of the troops have suffered as a result of the march (this shows the impact using Hail Caesar factors). Again, roll a d6 with each player rolling for the impact on their own forces:


This is not meant to be a fight to the finish. For the Sumerians, a disaster on the battlefield would probably mean the end of their civilisation and they could expect their cities to be consumed by the Assyrian Empire (no pressure then... Ed.). For the Assyrians, a reversal on the battlefield would signal a set-back, a temporary check on their territorial ambitions, but nothing that could not be reversed in the future.

For both sides, the loss of their King would be a monumental disaster; we should also consider each army to place a high value on the sub-commanders who are likely to be relatives of the king or important nobles.

The following table suggests how victory or loss might be assessed, I would recommend that the game last between 12-15 game turns depending on your choice of ruleset:




Compare the scores and then refer to the following table:


There are many different options to play this kind of small campaign game, popular sets could include Hail Caesar, Sword and Spear, Field of Glory, L’Art de la Guerre and the various incarnations of WRG. (I’d also add Impetus, Mortem et Gloriam or To the Strongest to that list but... well we could go on for pages: the wargaming world is certainly not short of suitable rule sets. Ed.). There are also over a hundred free options  available (see links at end).

I’m sure you will already have your favourite, but to play this campaign you will need to either tweak the comparative sizes of the forces or hamstring the Assyrians (outlined in the next section).

As an aside, the figures featured in this article are all 20mm figures from HAT from their Sumerian and Assyrian boxed sets. Unlike many of the older plastic figure sets, HAT seems to have learned the lesson that wargamers are their main customers and that they use sensible poses. Mercifully, there are no figures in any of the boxed sets (infantry and chariots for the Sumerians and chariots, cavalry and two types of infantry boxes for the Assyrians) that feature duff poses! (personally, I always rather enjoyed the chaps pulling parachutes or carrying canoes over their heads in my WWII Airfix sets but... I’m probably weird! Ed.)


Notionally, both of the armies are split into three divisions. Effectively this means a vanguard (usually with lighter or more mobile troops), a main division (usually led by the King and containing the cream of the infantry and the bulk of the chariots) followed by a rear-guard force with the levied or allied infantry and some chariots. This should give you sufficient flexibility for both armies, added to which you will have a clear command structure.

These are broad outlines rather than strict army lists. In order to get the balance right for this small campaign style game, the following approaches can be made:


  • Make the Sumerian force around 10% larger than the Assyrian one
  • Alternatively, only allow two-thirds of the Assyrians to be on the battlefield at the start of the game, the remaining third arrives on game turn 5 on the baseline directly behind the Assyrian King.
  • Or allow all of the Assyrians onto the table, but only allow a third of the force to move until game turn 3, two can move up to turn 6 and from turn 7 all of the force may move. This will simulate the army recovering from its long march across the semi-arid region.





This is a border war encounter where one side has chosen to move out of their city to prevent damage or loss to their population and to engage the enemy in the open. There are numerous examples of this from the American west where Native American tribes engaged US Army units away from their tented civilian population. The Israelis during their engagements with the Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians often resorted to advanced positions to prevent breakthroughs that would have put their settlements in danger. A similar thing was tried by the Iraqis in the second Gulf War, but with disastrous consequences for the National Guard.

On a much smaller scale, you could try the US actions against Pancho Villa in 1916. Villa’s 1600 guerrillas had sacked Columbus, New Mexico and rather than wait for another attack, the US sent 6,000 troops into Mexico to capture him. In two years, Villa evaded the Americans. This campaign would make a great game with Villa with his men on horses being pursued by US troops in automobiles supported by aircraft.



There are records of a border war between Lagash and Umma. They fought over Gu-Edina, a semi-desert region. This fictitious encounter between the Third Dynasty Sumerians and the Assyrians is set in this type of disputed region of the Mesopotamia. In actual fact, the Neo-Sumerians as they are often called lasted for around a hundred years. They were eventually overwhelmed by the Elamites and the Amorites. The last throw of the dice was the building of a wall between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in an attempt to hold off the Amorites, but this too failed and the Sumerians were once and for all consigned to the history books. 



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In terms of rules, can I add a plug for "To Ur is Human" which were written specifically for the period.

Posted by Graham Evans on Thu 19 Jan 14:59:40