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With It Or On It by Hollandspiele "With it or on it". This is what Spartan mothers would tell their...

With it Or On It by Hollandspiele With it Or On It by Hollandspiele

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With It Or On It



"With it or on it". This is what Spartan mothers would tell their sons, meaning bring back your shield or die on the battlefield. This is an excellent name for a tactical battle game based in Ancient Greece. Quite a few games have tried to recreate hoplite warfare for the wargamer. Let us see what is in the box:

17" x 22" mapsheet
176 counters
8-page rulebook
16 page Battle Book
1 eight-sided die

 As usual, minimalism is the key word when describing a Hollandspiele game. This one seems to have more counters than their other games, but that is the only thing that differs. The counters are large at 5/8", and the artwork on them is workmanlike. They are done in a manner that makes it easy to distinguish the different types of units. Speaking of the units, there are only four different types. These are:

Heavy Infantry
Light Infantry
Light Horse

 You will notice the absence of archers, slingers, and javelin men. This is a design decision that we will get into shortly. The map is as plain as plain can be, and it is made up of squares, not hexes. There is also absolutely no terrain at all except clear hexes. The rulebook is only seven pages long with the CRT etc. on the back page. The Battle Book is larger, and is filled with the background history of the battles and the setups for each of the scenarios.  The historical write up about the background history and the battles is well done. These are the battles that are included:

Marathon 490 BC
Plataea 479 BC
Tanagra 457 BC
Olpae 426 BC
Delium 424 BC
Mantinea 418 BC

 You will notice that these battles are either from the Greco-Persian Wars or early in the Peloponnesian War. This game is designer Tom Russell's first game in the Swords and Shields II ancient series. Swords and Shields I was based on battles from the Middle Ages. 
This is the sequence of play:

1. Command Phase
2. Action Phase
  a. Skirmish Phase(s)
  b. Rally Phase
  c. Move Phase(s)
  d. Combat Phase
3. Victory Phase
4. Initiative Phase

 Now to the rules; these are exceedingly short and sweet, but a bit deceptive. The rulebook, although well written, has no examples of play. The game mechanics are so different from other ancient games that at least one or two would have been a good addition to the rulebook. Mr. Russell has done some very good videos about the game, and there will be links below. These were a godsend. Remember the lack of skirmishers? Well the design decision behind that is they are actually present on the battlefield, but not actually represented by cardboard units. All units have a skirmimish zone that extends three hexes in front of them. So when your troops enter the skirmish zone they must stop and take die rolls against their exhaustion (exhaustion is used instead of casualties in the game). Your command decisions, movement, rally, and combat are all given to your separate 'Wings'. These are units that are color coded the same. These are the commands that can be used for each wing:


 As you can see, you cannot move and initiate combat at the same time. The Strategos counter allows you to give one command for all of your wings. This however lowers your Rally Limit by one (each scenario has a Rally Limit listed for each side to begin with). The Bonus counter gives you a few different pluses, from combat to rally. Leaders are also handled quite differently from the norm. In each scenario, both sides are given a set amount of leaders for each wing. Thus, the player knows how many leaders he has in a wing. However, during setup the leader side of the counter is put face down, and the player sets up not knowing where they are. When a unit is picked by the player to suffer exhaustion due to the CRT, the counter is then flipped over to its obverse. At this time you might find that it just suffers losses, or routs (it was brittle to begin with), or find a leader underneath. I will quote from the rulebook on the rule for elimination and rout:

 "9.5 Elimination & Rout Units that are Eliminated are removed from play, scoring Victory Points (VP) for the opposing player; the opposing player should group these Units off to the side of the map in whatever way makes it convenient for them to keep count. If a Revealed Leader is Eliminated, its side's Rally Limit is reduced by one.
 Whenever a player's Unit or Leader is Eliminated as a result of Combat, it immediately triggers a simultaneous Rout Check for all Foot Units (not Horse) in all of that player's Wings. Units that fail the check are Eliminated; Units that pass the check are not.13 Units Eliminated via a Rout Check do not themselves trigger another Rout Check, but if multiple Units are Eliminated as a result of Combat, multiple Rout Checks will be triggered.

 To pass a Rout Check,  it must be adjacent to at least two friendly Units in the same Wing, or  it must be adjacent to at least one friendly Unit in the same Wing, that itself satisfies the first condition."

 So if you have a unit by itself that is eliminated (through exhaustion or poor play), it can take a whole slew of other units with it. This is a part of playing that seems very historically accurate, but is also extremely troubling for the player in question.

 I was fully prepared not to like the game, and in reading the rules I really didn't see how they could actually work. I was more than pleasantly surprised to see that they actually do work and the results seem to match history. I am not saying the battles all play out the same way, but the results seem to fit with the history we know about these battles, especially the fact that one minute you have a line of infantry and the next a routed wing. Thank you Hollandspiele for letting me review another great game. For those of you who may be put off by the lack of hexes, no terrain, and skirmishers please look at the rules and watch the videos. You might be as surprised as I was.

Here are the links to the games and videos:

With It Or On It: