Lost Battles

I had had Lost Battles by Philip Sabin sitting on my shelf for a quite long time, but only recently got around reading it properly. I originally picked up the book, because I was interested on the authors novel way of examining ancient battles. Instead of postulating ifs and if-nots, they build a model that can be used to simulate these battles.

The difficulty with analyzing ancient battles is that the material is very scarce and often even contradictory. Reported amount of troops on different sides depend greatly on the author and often even exact location of the battle is unclear. Sabin highlights these and other problems and explains that they build the combat model so that one could simulate combat on a high level and more easily see how difference of troops, their initial positioning or maneuvers would affect the outcome.

The book is divided in two sections. First, the combat model is explained in detail. The author goes through things like amount of troops, different types of troops, size of the battlefield and such factors and explains how the model handels them. They give ample amount of examples on why certain feature of the model was developed in certain manner. While this part of the book is interesting, it doesn’t give good overview of the model. Luckily there’s nicely laid out rules at the end of the book where all this information is presented in logical order, without any reasoning or examples.

The second part of the book consists of ancient battles. The first one, Cannae, is covered in detail and there’s turn by turn report of few first turns of the battle. Rest of the battles aren’t gone through in the same manner, mainly because of the amount of space that would require. Each battle still includes write up detailing how the scenario was constructed and other design decisions and their reasonings. This is enough to get reader up and running the scenario on their own. Of course each scenario is the author’s interpretation of the battle, based on the resources that we currently have our disposal. It probably would be fun and even insightful to first run a scenario through once or twice and then start modifying it. This would allow one to gauge how situation might have been different or check if it’s possible to achieve the historical result with different force compositions.

I haven’t run any scenarios by myself, so I can’t really comment on that aspect of the book. Rules presented in the book feel fairly solid and quick enough to play. Really neat thing is that as the system is fairly abstact, it can be played with pencil, paper and some dice. Or, if the player so wishes, one can also build an elaborate battlefield and beautiful miniature armies to really bring the feel of armies clashing against each other.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, albeit the first part was a bit tedious to read. I can recommend this to arm chair generals and people interested in simulating ancient warfare.

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