Thanks to those of you who have ordered the Men of Bronze book from the Osprey Website. Men of Bronze is up for order now and is scheduled for release in April of this year (2019). Many of those folks that pre-orderd have reached out to me to learn a bit more about how to go about building an army to play Men of Bronze! They want to be ready to hit the table as soon as they get the book, and I don't blame them!
Therefore, I thought I would spend a bit of time writing about some of the basic ideas in building an army for Men of Bronze. Before we get too far, the game itself has army lists and sample army builds in the book. These include the major Greek City-states such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and more. They also have lists for the classic foes of the Greek world such as the Persians, Macedonians, and various barbarian hill tribes. This allows you to play battles from the Ionian Revolt, Greco-Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, the Corinthian War, the rise of Thebes, Xenophon's Anabasis, and ultimately the wars with Phillip the II.
In addition, one of the key principles and design goals of Men of Bronze was to be scale and base agnostic. If you have all ready based Greeks for other games, there should be no need to change them out. There is no set or official “unit” size in Men of Bronze. If you have hoplites, you can use them. All actions are carried out on a unit-by-unit or unit-vs-unit basis. I use single based 28mm models from Victix in units of 10 models, but it works fine with multi-based units as well. You only need two things for the rules to work, know where the “center” or Leader of the unit is for measurements, and be able to tell if the unit is in Phalanx formation vs. Open Order. Formation can be determined by a token, a staggered front line, or a loosely spread out set of bases. The Leader can be a simple mark in the center of a unit or base. Therefore, any models can work.
The second piece to know is that all measurements are generic. They are in base widths. Realistically, a base width can be any mutually agreeable distance depending on the size/scale of your model collection. I typically use 1 Imperial Inch with my 28mm models for a base width, but you can use what works best for your collection and models. Typically, if the front of your base is 40mm across, that should be the equivalent of 1 base width. However, if you prefer to use something else, the rules will support it.
With some of those basic ideas out of the way, let's take a closer look at the units you will use to build your forces. While working on these rules, I was struck by the Daniel Mersey “Rampant” series also from Osprey Games. They were able to reduce wide swathes of troop types into easily digestible groupings which made army design a breeze. I wanted to mimic this style in my own game. Therefore, I opted for more abstract unit types to encompass the various types of troops you might see in a Classical Greek battle from elite Spartan Phalanxes to Persian conscripts.
You can not write a set of game rules about Classical Greek warfare and not deal with the premier fighting formation in the ancient world at the time; the Phalanx. What made the phalanx unique was that it relied on the soldiers around them to protect and defend each other in a solid, disciplined wall of shield and spear. Individual valor and skill was less important than working as a unit. However, even though all City-States had a phalanx composed of citizen soldiers, not all Phalanx formations were created equal. Therefore, there are grades of Phalanx that impact their ability on the battlefield from elite units like the Sacred Band of Thebes, to the standard drilled hoplites of Athens or Corinth, to the citizen militia of smaller city-states such as Eretria or Thespia.
As the main military formation of the Classical Greek world, the rules are written to emphasize Phalanx vs. Phalanx combat. As such, phalanx formation has certain innate abilities that enhance their survivability and strength on the battlefield. However, they also have some weaknesses that can be exploited by a savvy commander. That said, the bulk of most Greek forces will be various levels of Phalanx formations.
Of course, many of the Greek's rivals and enemies did not make extensive use of the phalanx. Instead, they used more traditional Infantry formations of professional, conscripts or tribal soldiers. These could be very skilled warriors in their own right, but they choose to fight in a looser fighting formation than the Phalanx. As such, the rules have a place for these fighting formations too. Just like the Phalanx, there are also various grades of ability in Infantry formations such as the elite Persian Immortals, to the more mundane Persian Sparabara, to the warband driven barbarians.
In Menof Bronze light troops are available to you. Greek writers and historians would have us believe that the hoplite was the main focus and decider of battles. However, there were many cases where the humble javelin man in loose formation played a critical role. These rules include archers, slingers, peltasts, and psiloi. All had their place and roles on the battlefield in the minds of Greek military leaders.
The most famous and well-known light troops of the Classical Greek battles were the peltasts. These were often semi-professional skirmishers who were named after their famous light shields the Pelte. The were often hired mercenaries from Thrace, but could also be less-well off citizens of the city-state.
Psiloi had even less equipment and skill than a peltast. Sometimes they were Spartan helots forced into service, or Athenian rowers acting as impromptu landing parties, or dedicated javelin throwers. They typically only went to battle with a handful of Javelins and little or no protection.
Despite their lighter equipment and training, these skirmishers played a vital role in Greek warfare. They protected the vulnerable flanks of a phalanx, softened up enemy phalanxes with missile weapons, and supported attacks. These light troops generally went where phalanxes could not, such as rugged terrain where a phalanx could not stay in a tight formation or where greater foot speed was needed.
Archers and slingers were very useful in the Greek military as a way to attack at range. Despite the general cultural disdain for ranged combat in Greek military culture, their was no denying the importance of being able to hit an enemy from far away. Archers/slingers provided useful firepower for attacking or defending fortifications and cities. They were also popular for negating the mobility of peltasts and cavalry. Of course, the most famous of these types of troops were not even from mainland Greece; Cretan Archers and Rhodesian Slingers.
Any army caught out without its light troops was threatened with annihilation from ranged pin-prick attacks, flanking, or even worse; encirclement. In Greek Warfare, the best counter to enemy light troops was to bring light troops of your own. Therefore, these important and valuable troops are present for you to put in your force.
On the Greek mainland, very few city-states could field an effective cavalry force. There was simply not enough good pasture land and only the very wealthy could afford to raise horses. The one major exception in Greece proper was Athens. They were said to be able to field a thousand horse cavalry at one time. For Greece, this was a huge number. Of course, cultures and areas outside of Greece could and did field larger cavalry forces. The Persians were well known for their superior cavalry.
There are two main types of Cavalry in Men of Bronze. The first is the standard light cavalry found all across the ancient world. In the age before the stirrup, riders had to grip and steer their horses with their thighs when riding. This made it difficult to deliver a shock, impact attack from horseback. Instead, Cavalry were frequently used as a type of mobile skirmisher to deliver a rain of javelins on an enemy. Their main strength was their mobility and ability to move faster than troops on foot. As such, the majority of cavalry in the game are this lighter type of cavalry. Their strength is their ability to provide mobile firepower and deliver supporting attacks in the flank or rear of an enemy phalanx.
As mentioned, cavalry tactics outside of Greece did offer some alternatives. For example, Persia and Macedon were able to field a heavier cavalry force in the form of armored spearmen on horseback. Persian forces even made use of chariots to deliver an attack. These well-armored and armed cavalry elements can also be fielded in the form of Heavy Cavalry. Again, their main advantage is maneuverability compared to a Phalanx, and the ability to strike where they are needed most to swing the tide. These heavy units have greater survivability than their lighter counter-parts and are great mobile supports for your main attack.
To round out the period, there are a few stand alone or unique units of interest covered in the book as well. These somewhat unique units are Light Hoplites and the Macedonian style Phalanx. Both are interesting and unique variations of the more traditional "Phalanx" formation.
Light Hoplites are a unit created to address the reforms of the Athenian general Iphikrates during the war with Sparta. There is a great deal of academic debate about what exactly these reforms did! However, the sources are clear that the reforms were effective in Iphikrates battles and that his units had increased mobility. I have found the argument that the reforms lightened the weight of hoplite armor and equipped them with a lighter shield in an effort to increase their speed and flexibility on the battlefield. Therefore, these "Light Hoplites" are a bit less hard hitting than traditional phalanx units, but a bit more mobile.
The Macedonian Phalanx is also interesting as it is an inversion of the principles of the traditional Greek Phalanx. In the Greek Phalanx, the emphasis is on the defense, with each member of the unit protecting their comrade behind a large shield. The Macedonian Phalanx instead puts the emphasis on offensive power as the unit's protection. Instead of holding a large shield to protect their neighbor, the Macedonian Phalangite would hold a larger, longer spear so any opponents would need to first penetrate a wall of spear tips before they could attack a Macedonian. This is one of the many reforms made by Phillip of Macedon that allowed his new military model to gain dominance over Greece.
As you can see, the army building rules are designed to provide enough structure to build a solid, flavorful list for the period. The army lists and samples in Men of Bronze are there for you to build off and give you an idea of the possible. They are not intended to cover all possible armies from the period. However, they are abstract enough to allow you to build more niche or unique forces as well. I encourage you to go out and do your own research and make the forces you want to play!
The abstracted nature of the different army elements allows you to build a varied force. Each unit type has their own advantages and abilities to be exploited and used on the battlefield. No unit can do it all alone. Hoplites on their own have vulnerable flanks and can not maneuver freely. Infantry alone can maneuver easier, but does not have the combat power of hoplites in phalanx formation. Cavalry is quick, but can not overcome a determined phalanx shield wall. Light troops can go into rough terrain quickly, attack at range, and provide key support attacks, but will wilt under a charge by infantry or hoplites. Using these units successfully together is the key to success in Menof Bronze.