This blog first got started from a series of reviews for the Osprey Wargaming series made for various forums I was part of. From there, it naturally morphed into a blog on game design and wargame reviews. I had been inspired by such blogs as DeltaVector and By Brush and Sword.
I have long been a fan of the Osprey Wargame Series of books or as I like to call them, the Blue Books. They had a concise 64 page length, a full fleshed out wargame, nice art/pictures, good price point, and often introduced me into a period or style of game I had not played or tried before. Many of them often began with or included some interesting design notes. I always put down a book with a new design idea, appreciation for a period, or some other positive take away. My shelf soon filled with books from this series. It is always one of my hobby goals to buy every new release from Osprey Games in the Wargame Series.
You can look in my Blog and read all about the books in the series. Therefore, it only makes sense that I will also try to review one of their 2019 releases Men of Bronze. This is a game of Greek Hoplite warfare and number 24 in the series. This book will be much harder to review from all of the other Osprey Games books I have reviewed for a simple reason. I wrote it.
Despite the obvious conflict of interest, I will still follow my normal approach to reviews on this board and tell you what I liked, what I did not like, and all the Meh and other Uncertainties related to this book. As the author, I was lucky to get an advance print copy, and I will say it has the same great craftsmanship as all the Osprey Wargame Series books. You can expect white space, great Osprey art, and plenty of pictures of miniatures.
So, with my disclaimer out of the way, let's get a closer look at this book and the rules.
Things I Liked
One of the most interesting aspects of the rules is the use of Arete Points, as a way to introduce resource management into the game. These are points that are generated by each unit and placed in a pool for a general to use during the turn. These can be used to do a number of things such as bid for initiative, attempt to interrupt an action, trigger a unit's special rule, launch a charge, or other stuff. This means as units are eliminated, a general has fewer Arete Points to use and must think about think about how and when they are going to be used.
The game is mostly I-GO-U-Go ,but with a twist. You use a Bid of Arete Points to determine who has initiative and gets to act first. However, once a unit acts, the other player can use an Arete Point to try to take the initiative. This can happen as many times as a player has Arete Points. However, taking the initiative is not a given, but requires a roll-off. Whoever maintains the initiative can then act freely with one unit before more Arete Points can be spent. Therefore, players have to pay attention on when the “flow of battle” may shift.
The game has a very simple army composition. Units are abstracted so a variety of ancient Greek units can be incorporated into the game with a bit of creativity. In addition, it has basic army lists and sample lists to get you started right away.
The mechanics are simple and relatively uniform. After a turn or two, it will be easy to remember what to do. Almost all modifiers are bonus dice and bonuses are typically in increments of 2 additional dice. The dice system is simple but effective without a lot of memorization. All pushback mechanics are the same distance.
The game has Designer Notes in it!
Things I Do Not Like
The dice system maybe too simplistic. It doesn't take a math genius to calculate most of the probabilities and outcomes before you engage. You will have a pretty good idea of what each round of combat will end up as, and once you engage fighting you fight until the other unit is destroyed or routed.
There is a system for units to support one another in close combat and in assault. If a unit decides to support, they become “part” of that unit until the fight is done. That means that if you support a weakened unit, you may loose two units instead of one. Supporting adds additional combat dice for attacking and defending but does not change the main units stats in any other way. Therefore, a sloppy support may cost you dearly.
In addition, the order of events for supporting can be a bit unclear. When someone charges your unit, you can choose to support if you are close enough, you seem to be able to charge or move in to support once engaged, or when charging a unit can choose to support the charge if they are close enough. The units then re-align their position based on if they were the main unit, support unit, on the flank, or in the rear. This part can get a bit confusing on the sequence, when dice are added, and would benefit from an illustration of play or some diagrams.
Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game does not use individual model removal. Instead, it is Unit-vs.-Unit and either entire units are removed, or they are still in play. Units do need to be shuffled around to align for combat and support units, flank units, and rear attacks must be set-up into a recognizable pattern for melee. Some folks are not a fan of that approach to melee, and prefer free-wheeling edges and multi-unit combats; but this system has you re-arrange combats into something more orderly.
The game has a variety of scenarios with 6 basic scenarios and 6 “historical” scenarios. I am sure these will not be to everyone's liking. The Battle of Marathon seems particularly abstracted. However, scenarios may or may not have a complication such as night fall, bad omens, weather, or even a herd of goats on the battlefield. These help add to the re-playability of each scenario. They are relatively “by-the-numbers” scenarios. There is no campaign system built into the rules.
There are rules called Morale and Collapse that help determine when a unit is “wavering” which reduces the unit's effectiveness. However, a unit typically does not flee until it has lost too much “Courage”. Once it does flee it may trigger a cascade of wavering or fleeing units. An entire army can Collapse relatively quickly after a key melee is resolved. An Army where many of its units flee or start wavering is in a bad place as they lose units, ability to fight, and Arete Points for special rules. This may not be to everyone's taste as it “reinforces” failure, but it does create a lot of friction for a general to overcome.
Finally, the pictures and rules talk about using individually based 28mm models in units of 10. The pictures have units of 10-15 models on separate bases. All movement measurements are in base widths and the actual size is not discussed. In the opening First Principles the game states that it is base and scale agnostic. However, there is not much discussion on how to use alternate base or model sizes. This is mostly left up to the player.
If you have played DuxBellorum, Lion Rampant, or others of the Osprey Games in the Rampant series you will see many ideas and themes that are similar in Menof Bronze. The Arete Points have an analogy to the Leadership Points in Dux Bellorum, but with a twist. Using generic measurements such as base widths is also a theme from DuxBellorum. The simplified army building and unit characteristics are similar to Lion Rampant.
However, there are a number of differences that make Menof Bronze unique from those other Osprey Games rulesets. The game has a unique profile for units. The units do not lose effectiveness as they fight. There are no activation rolls. You can see where some of the bones of Men ofBronze pays homage to those other Osprey Games' systems, but branches off to do its own thing with game design and the period.
Overall, I think it is a neat little game. However, I maybe biased!