Saturday, August 30, 2008

Me and WRG

I consider War Games Research Group (WRG) 5th edition ancients as the first "real" wargames rules I played. Back when I lived in San Jose, CA, there was a game store in nearby Campbell, CA called The Gametable. Long gone now, it was started in the mid-70s by three brothers: Larry, Michael, and Phil Duffield. A bit like Jack Scruby's Soldier Factory, which was then in San Luis Obispo, you could play games there on the tables they had set up throughout the store. The main table was a large 12' x 6' wooden behemoth where we played miniatures.

One of the main games we played was ancients and the rules that had the most support were the just-released WRG 5th edition. My first army was Han Chinese using 25mm Hinchliffe Models figures (I couldn't resist the convict javelinmen). We started a campaign run by Larry Duffield that was based on a map of ancient Greece. It had a little of the flavor of a boardgame called Source of the Nile. Each player had a "known" area they controlled. The area had specific resources that they used to build and supply their armies. Outside each known area was white space. In order to control more land and get more resources, we had to march our armies into terra incognita, search for resources, and take on any minor conflicts with the indigenous peoples. As the white space was filled in and empires clashed, we fought battles using the WRG rules.

The campaign flourished, faltered, and failed--as all wargame campaigns do--but the games went on. Wanting an army that was more like my personality, I decided on an Arab Conquest army. The army was made to attack, attack, attack and I liked that. It was all A-class fanatical warriors, which gave the units particular clout in an initial contact round of melee.

Our army lists were primitive. Unlike today, where lack of an official list leaves you in limbo, there really weren't any official lists. We tended to use the The Wargaming Guide to Tactical Ancient Armies book, which was published by Milgamex in 1977 for use with their Ancient Warfare rules, but any home-brewed list that had sources to support it was acceptable.

The final flourishing of my Arab Conquest army was its morphing into a Ghaznavid army. The key to this army was its two elephant units, each of four models, supported by triple-armed cavalry (bow, lance, javelins). This was my first competition army. In local play, they swept all before them, but in the big competition at an early Pacificon convention, they fell flat in game one. Still, they were a pleasure to play.

In 1981, I sold my armies and went off to ten years of academic pursuit. It wasn't until I moved from Chicago to Seattle in 1991 that I got back into miniature wargaming. By that time, the scene had changed. WRG 7th edition was struggling for survival. They were, in my opinion, a truly brilliant set of rules, but suffered from complexity and the inevitable ordeal of deciphering Barkerese. No one in Seattle wanted to touch them. Some played Tactica and later Armati, and there were a few people playing DBA, but none of these rules caught my imagination, so I bided my time with other gaming interests.

I finally got back into ancients when Paul Hannah started a DBA group in Seattle about six years ago. Even though I never considered it my ideal cup o' tea, DBA grew on me and I built several armies, played several games over the years, and contributed to the "total wanker" rating of a few of the armies (Old Saxons and Mitanni). From DBA I graduated to DBM because I liked the bigger armies and more in-depth approach to playing a game. I enjoyed DBM, too, but I always felt a little put off by its over-genericizing of the troop types. It just plain rankled that my Late Roman legionaries, clad in mail armor with large shields and armed with steel weapons, were almost functionally equivalent to butt-nekkid tribesmen with wooden clubs: Bd(O) versus Bd(F). Nevertheless, I played several tournaments and likely contributed to an overall decline in the standing of Late Roman armies (sorry, guys).

All through these years, I still pined for a game of WRG. I purchased sets of 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th edition rules on eBay. I also got all the published army lists for WRG 6th and 7th, and even found a used copy of the old Milgamex lists to supplement my badly deteriorated original copy. Eventually, in 2006 I decided to embark on a 28mm ancient project for WRG 6th edition. Fortunately, I had Kevin Smyth to join me in my folly. The enticement was the excellent 28mm range of 3rd century Romans produced by A and A Miniatures.

We opted for using larger bases and played on an 8' x 6' table. We didn't get a lot of games in before other projects pulled us away; however, I have a nice WRG ancients army for the first time in more than two and a half decades. It's not complete; I still have light cavalry to finish, a couple generals to add, and heavy infantry units to expand.

I'm now playing Field of Glory. I like these rules and I'm working to get broader play for them in the Seattle metro area. I can see a lot of the heritage of WRG ancients in them. I have toyed with rebasing my 3rd c. Romans for FoG, but I won't. I'm working on a 28mm Carthaginian army for FoG and plan on a Republican Roman army, too. But I'll keep the 3rd c. Romans as they are for the time when my WRG urge will strike again.


  1. FoG is an okay game but obviously owes a lot to WRG - and unfortunately it's not as good a game. I welcome the return to detailed battle mechanics provided by Fog (and not by DBM). But it's really too bad people didn't dust off their old WRG copies (or go out and buy it in its new incarnation called Warrior).

    FoG is still very 'first editiony' with all sorts of clunky mechanics like death rolls following morale checks etc.

    Good to know there are still people pining for a real wargame!

  2. I was a serial rule set buyer (still am) but I have narrowed it down to only a couple of sets that I play regularily

    DBA (but i double the number of bases and increase the PIP dice to 2 average dice for regulars and 2 d6 dice for irregular armies (if a mix of both types use one of each)

    6th edition WRG

    5th edition WRG

    I recently bought a pristine copy of the 5th edition rules (I have made do with a motheared photocopy for the past 25 years).

    I think on balance 5th are my favourite edition but my modified DBA rules come a close second (and simpler)