Rally Round the King for Thucydides

Thucydides_pushkin01“The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.” – Thucydides, 2.43

Rally Round the King from Two Hour Wargames is one of my most favorite games.  In my opinion, it is the best game for mass fantasy battles.  The magic system does not overpower the game.  Powerful elite units and heroes can be beaten by ordinary units with the use of good tactics.  The game has its roots in Warrior Heroes and the WRG Ancients rules, which means Rally Round the King can be used to game historical battles.  In fact, there is a supplement with historical army lists:  Rally Round the King — 3000 BC to 1500 AD.

Phalanx advancing across the table top
Phalanx advancing across the table top

My favorite fantasy race has always been the Amazons.  I wish I could say my love for the Amazons grew out of a love of Greek mythology.  In fact, my introduction to Amazons was through Tarzan, both comics and the novels along with a good dose of Wonder Woman.  It was comics and pulp novels that kindled my interest in Greek mythology and history.  It is only natural that in collecting miniatures of Amazons that I would also collect miniatures of their opponents, the Greeks.  Three years ago I ran a RRtK (Rally Round the King) game at Texicon which featured two small hoplite armies.  I didn’t have the historical supplement at that time and based the army lists off of the Amazon list in RRtK and accounts from Thucydides.

The game was a success and with the exchange rate between the dollar and the British pound now being lower, I’ve been able to purchase enough miniatures to run a larger game at a convention next year.  I’ve chosen a battle which I think will be a challenge for gamers, the first battle of Mantinea from the Peloponnesian War.  One side will be challenged because they will be outnumbered and the challenge faced by the other side is a large gap in their lines.  Both sides are led by generals who are not fully trusted by their troops.IMG_0406 (2)

Where to Begin

“And if both sides nourished the boldest hopes and put forth their utmost strength for the war, this was only natural.  Zeal is always at its height at the commencement of an undertaking…” – Thucydides, 2.8

If you’ve never created a game scenario from a historical battle, where do you begin?  It begins with a bit of research into a period that is interesting to you.  Believe me, if you aren’t interested, then how do you expect others to be interested in your game?

Always try to use at least one primary source, as close to an eye witness account as you can get.  For the Peloponnesian War, there is only one extant source readily available to the public — The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.  You might think that with a word like “Peloponnesian” in the title, that the book would be dry and boring, but it isn’t.  It isn’t just facts and figures about a war, but also the stories of the people involved, the conflicting political ideologies, and the changes the war brought to countless lives.  Thucydides’ book is required reading at both West Point and Annapolis.  Surprisingly, the book is relevant for today as it addresses whether people should be ruled by the elite (an oligarchy, a word Bernie Sanders has used this year) or whether people have a right to self-rule (a democracy).  (And this could open up an entire tangent on this year’s election! Stay on topic, Floozy!)  I have a preference for The Landmark Thucydides edition edited by Robert B. Strassler.  It has lots of footnotes, appendices, maps, illustrations, and a good index.Landmark_Thucydides

In addition, there are two secondary sources that are invaluable to this period: A War Like No Other by Victor Davis Hanson and The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan.  In A War Like No Other, Hanson discusses how the war was fought and how warfare changed over the course of the war.a_war_like_no_other1


I would like to mention two other books with recent research on hoplite warfare and the hoplite warrior:  A Storm of Spears by Christopher Matthew and Men of Bronze edited by Donald Kagan and Gregory F. Viggiano.storm of spears


And finally, if you know nothing at all about Greek history and its significance in the development of today’s civilization, the “Introduction to Ancient Greek History” lectures given by Donald Kagan at Yale are now available on YouTube as well as the Open Yale Course.

Next time I’ll show you how I derived the army lists for the First Battle of Matinea.

“In practice we always base our preparations against an enemy on the assumption that his plans are good, indeed, it is right to rest our hopes not on a belief in his blunders, but on the soundness of our provisions.” – Thucydides, 1.84

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