Friday, 18 December 2020

To Ur is Human - Playtest

A new Ancient system played with wargaming buddy Andrew Tuesday night. 
"To Ur is Human" rules, advertised as being "written specifically for games set in the period of the Mesopotamian city-states, such as Akkad and Ur. Using a gridded playing area and easy to learn innovative rules".

There is an excellent summary here on Palouse Wargaming Journal detailing some core mechanics, so I won't bother repeating these points.  I purchased the rules for $10 NZ from Wargame Vault and printed and bound them. I think Andrew said he ordered a printed copy which still hasn't arrived given postage timeframes to New Zealand. The other book is just some recommended reading on the period!

A question that might be asked is why you would need another ancient's rule system, and the answer is we don't. E.g. here is the the same period we played with Big Battle DBA rules.

At the same time, it is interesting to see different takes on wargaming, and especially for a narrower period. The design philosophy of these rules places an emphasis upon several features of warfare at this time that might be particularly characteristic, and significantly obfuscated/abstracted in other more generic rules. The characteristics are based upon the best interpretations we can make given our limitations in understanding these first human civilisations of course.

Features focused upon include (1)  the core mechanic whereby troops are in a state of fight/fright/flight, (2) the potentially devastating effect of "Battle Carts" (both combat effect and movement), and (3) the generally ponderous nature of armies more generally. 

All figures and terrain (apart from two buildings!) are Andrews. We played on a grid where each 25cm tile was effectively 9 squares (easy to see position at a glance). So the grid was 15x 9 squares, with 12x8 recommended as minimum for decent sized game. Grid movement adds some clarity to the game, though we also had a few questions about it at times (see below).

 On with the game. Here we see my light troops running up to target the enemy before retiring.

While my battle carts threaten on my left flank.

Any unit when charging or charged makes a fear test which may result in units being in a fight, fright or flight state, with effects which might be expected from those results. For example Battle Carts have a reasonable chance of "frighting" or "flighting" other troops even if they don't close.

Now as it turned out we got rather wrapped up in game and I forgot to take more photos for a while, (hence the change in light conditions as we switched from daylight to artificial lighting)!

As can be seen though, it has become a mess, with my battlecarts having swung around behind and through the enemy army and coming back out the other side.

On the right, a last archer fights to the death against some enemy medium infantry, as I send troops to reinforce. The enemy medium infantry have taken very heavy casualties from shooting. Shooting is  rather deadly to many troops in this period given the lack of armour or shields!

Disaster as my "Big Man" accompanies my unshielded spearmen and is killed against enemy shielded spearmen (who were in a fright state encouraging some aggression on my part).. Shields are the new superweapon of 3000BC, exceeded in fearsomeness only by the mighty Equid  (donkey) drawn carts of death. 

The carnage is heavy, but my forces break first.

I won't say too much more except we enjoyed the basic concepts, especially the fight/fright/flight mechanic, whereby troops are often having an effect without fighting (e.g. Battle Carts thundering around shaking morale), and shaken troops add to the confusion and mess.

A few things we were unclear on:
  1. Big Men allow rerolls, but of what? Combat dice, fear tests? Everything? Rerolling 12 combat dice (for example) seems very powerful, when you are already adding extra dice for the Big Man.
  2. Retreats - this caused the most confusion, it wasn't clear where units should have to retreat to, especially in multiple combats. What about if you are in flight state where do you run? Is it to the nearest board edge? Some greater specification here would seem useful, e.g. retreat directly backwards from frontal enemy, then towards board edge subsequently, which is what we ended up doing.
  3. Do you have to keep testing morale if you are in fright/flight state or is it optional?
  4. Light troops and when they can shoot was a bit confusing, if they test fear and shoot before retreating, do they get to do anything in their own turn, or do they just have to sit there a turn? We think they can't do anything at this point.
  5. Chargers from a diagonal, e.g. from rear/flank, do they hit flank or rear?
In terms of modifications we might be implement, troops seem rather inclined to stay to the last man at times, and we would be tempted to remove a unit if it drops to a single stand, not least because this makes it impossible to indicate if it is in fright or flight without use of counters otherwise. An exception would be made for battlecarts which are only two stands, and also limited in number and easier to remember the status of!

Anyway some neat concepts in this ruleset and recommend giving it a go if this is a period you are interested in! We are playing again next week.


  1. Good to see this on your table! I will point Graham to your battle report to answer your questions.

    1. I like the look of Andrew's armies. What size and manufacturer are they?

    2. 15mm mostly Essex, but with some Museum Miniatures who have a new range of them, and are due for their January sale shortly too - recommended!

    3. Wow! These figures are superb! I have never looked at Museum Miniatures before. I am very impressed with the sculpting.

    4. The large shields look like a lego to me!

    5. Yes great figures, and yes they do look a bit like lego! :)

    6. If you look at the stele of the vultures they do look like they're supposed to fit next to each other like little bricks.

  2. Good to read the report - and that you got so involved that you forgot to take pictures! Thanks for trying something different. I'm not trying to replace DBA (who could) but just put out there my idea of how Sumerian warfare worked. As to your questions:

    1) Re-rolls: It's a re-roll of one instance of dice rolling, so it could be the combat dice or the fear test dice. Prudent players often hold it back for the fear test.

    2) Units that have to retire due to combat normally go back to the square behind them if attacked from the front, even in a multiple combat. That would also normally be the unit's baseline. If hit in the flank by a single unit, and still standing, then move away from the contacting unit. If you can't, then there's a whole load of stuff on page 21 that should sort the issue out. As a DBA player you may prefer, with multiple contacts, to just enforce the "fight another round" rule. Chalk the lack of explanation in this area up to rule writer experience and the desire to keep the page count down and the price below £5. Later rule sets have a lot more detail in this area.
    3) See page 23. It helps to try not to think of Fear Tests as traditional morale tests. Fear Tests are always triggered by an event, except for Rallying, which is voluntary, subject to conditions. Remember that the Fear Test is a test of comparative states of mind unless you are rallying. A unit in fright state that is in melee will test at the end of combat not because it is at fright state, but because all units test at the end of combat.
    4) Light troops ordinarily move and shoot whenever they please (bottom p17). If evading, the paragraph on p16 applies. It works like this. Unit X declares a charge on the LI. The LI may evade. If they do, whether shooting or not (quote) "This is their move for the next turn". If they don't shoot they evade without taking a Fear Test. If they want to shoot they have to take a Fear Test and not get any worse than they currently are (so if at "fright" and stay at "fright" they're okay). If they drop a state say from Fight to Fright then they do not shoot but do still evade, this being their next turn's move, so they can't move or shoot in their turn. Basically an evade brings forwards your next turn and lets you do it in your opponent's turn.
    5) The whole facing stuff is covered on pages 14/5. A unit being attacked can only be contacted from 4 faces, front/ back/ left/ right. You only get a flank charge if charging directly from the flank. The diagram you want is at the top of p15. If the unit is already being fought from the front, a diagonal attack conforms to the flank. If the unit is not being fought to the front then the diagonal charge hits the front. There's also a diagram for what happens if the defending unit is facing to a corner. If you re-read it without the pressure of being in the middle of a game and hopefully not as the only bloke with a set of the rules, then it should all make sense.

    I am surprised - except for Carts - that units are hanging on until the last man drops (except, perhaps, for LI that get in a skirmishing battle with their opposite numbers without closing). You may want to look at the Fear Test application again, as in hand to hand it normally all goes a bit runny for the losing side if it loses a base and then enemy doesn't, and it hasn't got supporting infantry. Mostly I tend to find that infantry units break a long way before they're down to their last base. Otherwise, by all means chop and change the rules as you want. You've paid your money for them. It's what I do.


    1. Many thanks for the answers, we will see how we get on in the second game!

    2. No worries. If you have questions that are too long or involved for the blog, then I do reply to emails sent to the address in the front of the book.

  3. It would seem that these rules would extwnd into the classical Chariot era, up to New Kingdom Egypt, without much difficulty, at least until early cavalry (Assyrians, Babylonians, etc) make their appearance.

    Andrew's troops and table look very nice indeed!

    1. Many people have made this remark. The author gives no warranty, but would like to see someone try!

    2. Cheers Peter and Graham, yes would seem suitable :)