Monday, November 30, 2020

To Ur is Human - First Impressions

Having purchased the rules, To Ur is Human (To Ur), one year ago and having finally fought a Sumerian battle among the irrigation ditches of the Fertile Crescent two weeks ago, time for a First Impressions of the rules.  The game mentioned was fought under the guidance of the author, Graham Evans.  To Ur states that it is a set of Tabletop Wargame Rules for Conflict in Sumerian Mesopotamia.  What does that mean?  We will find out.

To Ur measures in at 29 pages in length.  Typeface is large so the rules' content is shorter in length than suggested by the page length.  The back cover of the book contains a QRS.  Publishing the QRS on the back cover is a very useful practice.  Unlike Graham’s later, Its Getting a Bit Chile, To Ur features only the core rules without sections describing figure availability, painting guides, scenarios, etc..

To Ur features an Igo-Ugo system played on a grid.  Sure, play could be adapted to free-form movement and measurements but a grid allows for effortless resolution and little ambiguity.  Well, more on ambiguity later when movement, missile fire, and charging are discussed.  With no ground scale nor figure-to-man ratio given, To Ur represents combat in ancient Sumeria abstractly.  A Basic Maneuver Unit (BMU) consists of four bases for infantry and two bases for battle carts.  The number of figures per base is not important.  Any number of figures will do.  Each base can suffer four hits before its removal.  Given that, a four stand unit can absorb 16 hits before removal to due casualties.

Movement is most often one grid per turn unless charging.  Missile troops may fire up to three grids for bows.  Facing within a grid is important.  A unit may position itself in one of eight attitudes within the grid (four facing grid sides and four facing grid corners).  With the plodding rate of advance, an attacking unit may suffer several turns of missile fire before coming to grips with an adversary.  Light infantry can move and shoot. In fact, light missile troops may advance one square, shoot, and then retire one square.   A very handy attribute! Each unit is classified by Type (Heavy Infantry, Medium Infantry, Light Infantry, and Battle Carts) and by Training (Elite, Trained, Levy). Each side has one Big Man or Lugal.

The Turn Sequence is typical of many Igo-Ugo wargame rules. The sequence is,
  • Move CiC (Lugal)
  • Charge Declaration
  • Movement
  • Shooting
  • Hand-to-Hand Combat
  • Rally
  • Assess victory conditions
What is at the heart of the design philosophy for To Ur?  Strip away all but the essential elements and the players are left with a psychological test of wills between adversaries.  Whether or not units will close or run is governed by a Fear Test.  A unit can be in one of three morale states: Fight, Fright, or Flight.   Units take this test when charging, after a round of Hand-to-Hand combat, or attempting to rally.  This test features an opposed roll by the two combatants.  Each side rolls 1D6 and adds only a handful of modifiers.  As a result of this computed differential, each participating unit’s morale state may remain the same, go down or up.  A player may attempt to maximize chances for success but there is enough variability built into the Fear Table that each contest contains inherent risk.  Whoever can manage this risk more effectively over the course of battle may win the day.   An interesting twist to the use of the Fear Table and opposed die rolls is that this same mechanism is used for rallying. Imagine that. An opponent with a hot hand may prevent your unit from rallying!

One complexity and ambiguity with many grid-based games is diagonal measurement across the grid whether for movement or for missile fire.  Different rules approach this challenge differently by employing different distance metrics.   To Ur tackles this by stating measurement criteria but then offering multiple examples of both movement and missile fire. The process can be confusing but enough examples are included to work through most situations.  I appreciate that foresight.  I am sure some of these complicated measurements will become second nature with repeated playings but for now, complex moves, charges, and missile fire may require extra effort at first.

As for combat resolution, both missile fire and hand-to-hand (HtH) combat use D6’s.  Each unit is awarded a number of dice per base. For missile fire, this could be up to two dice per base or 8D6 for a full four-stand unit. For HtH, units can throw as many as four dice per base for a total up to 16D6. Modifiers can add even more D6s per base.  A bucket of dice can be thrown in HtH combat. Typically, 5s and 6s hit for most unit types although light infantry hit on 4+.

Production quality is good and the price very inexpensive.  I paid less than USD$10 post paid from Amazon.  The rules are well diagrammed to illustrate a number of the subtleties.  As noted earlier, examples of play are numerous.

With only one game under my belt, has this tempted me into beginning a new project?  Of course, it has!  I have spent considerable time pouring over the catalogs from Wargames Foundry and Newline Designs comparing their 28mm Sumerian offerings.  I may already have too many projects on my plate so a more measured and prudent approach may be to try modifying the rules to accommodate my later Bronze Age armies. The main change would center on the tactical differences between Sumerian battle carts and later chariots. That should not pose too tough of a hurdle to overcome.

As for rules' complexity and completeness, the rules are medium complexity primarily due to the constraints imposed by a grid.  Even only playing the game one time, I found the answer to every question within the rules.  That sounds complete.  Could I have absorbed the rules on my own without the author present as my guide?  Eventually, sure, but having Graham lead me through the rules helped tremendously.  An enjoyable gaming session for us all, I think!   Looking forward to my next encounter in ancient Mesopotamia.

Well done, Graham!

For more information on To Ur is Human, please contact Graham at Wargaming for Grown-Ups.

69 comments:

  1. Nice review, I like the naming of the morale states as they are a direct tie into raw human psychology. The 8 direction facing is also interesting. Not many rules achieve this level of subtlety, something perhaps more important to the square than the hex, though I have seen a hex set that does the same, giving 12 facings in total!

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    1. I was prodded in the fight/flight/fright direction by Ian Lowell, the bronze age wargaming vicar. The diagonals on squares require a bit of handling, but the lower the movement rates, the less it all matters that diagonals are longer.

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    2. Thank you, Norm. The classification of the morale states to Fight/Fright/Flight is an interesting twist to the more traditional and mundane Good/Disorder/Rout that we are all so accustomed to seeing.

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    3. Graham, Diagonals are often a tricky subject to address in games on squares but you have struck upon a system that works for you. Having lower movement rates does help.

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  2. Nice read Jonathan. I must however stay away from new periods.

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    1. Why? What sort of wargamer are you? Have a look at the boxes of 1/72 figures from Hat. Nicely sculpted, reasonably priced, and the paint scheme is really simple.

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    2. Glad you found the post interesting, George. I understand your reluctances for beginning a new period. For only a fiver, you could have the rules in-hand and tempt yourself.

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    3. Graham, George is much more responsible and restrained wargamer than I!

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  3. Looks like an interesting set of hex based rules with some similarities to To the Strongest? Another ancient army though....could be tempting Jonathan!

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    1. Squares, not hexes. Simon Miller and I agree there. I think the squares are the only similarity, so it's the same as "To The Strongest" in the same way that Peter Young's "Charge" is the same as WRG 1685-1845 rules because they both use tape measures.

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    2. It is an interesting set of rules with a low barrier to entry. That is, unless you must field two Sumerian armies! I am very tempted.

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  4. Thanks for the review, which is very fair. The rules are brief as when I did them it was an experiment to see whether I could put together a rulebook and also to save me money on photocopying when taking player sets to a weekend conference (honestly - printing b&w via Amazon is inexpensive, hence why they're £5). The print size is largish as I find that rule books with small type faces are a pain to consult quickly during a game, but that might be just me. I get free eye tests my eyesight is so bad.

    As for painting guides and history...if I was doing them now with several sets under my belt I'd add more history, a detailed discussion of troop types and loads of other bits and pieces. They'd get up to a 60 page count, would be in colour, sell for at least twice the price and still be the same set of rules. I think I'll leave them as is.

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    1. You are welcome! Very good to read that you find the review fair. I tried to provide a general feel for the rules and mechanisms. It may spawn interest from a reader or two.

      As for my comment about no histories, painting guides, figure availability, and the like in To Ur, this was not a criticism. I was simply pointing out that your later ruleset included these bits and acted more as a compendium on the period. Rather than being served these topics within the rules, themselves, I have had good fun doing my own research on the histories, warfare methods, troop types, figures, painting, etc..

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    2. As a thank you I've just noticed that Ian Lowell will be joining us for tomorrow's game. If you want to talk to anyone about Hittites and their chariots, he's the man.

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  5. Sounds like a fair review and an interesting rule set, of course you must start 2 more armies, you don't have anything like enough as it is!
    Best Iain

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    1. If the author says its fair then I must not be far off!

      You know me too well. It takes little prodding to set me off on a new period or two.

      Thanks for your comments!

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  6. Medium complexity sounds good to me! They do sound interesrting.

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    1. Can't believe you don't already have a copy!

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    2. Ray, the price is right too! Support your countryman!

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  7. A good review Jonathan on a nice set of rules. They are on my to play list but with Covid putting all plans on hold or up the spout, hopefully they'll get an airing in 2021.

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    1. Thank you, Steve. I thought I recalled you having purchased the rules when first published. I hope to see them out on your table in 2021. Do you have Sumerian armies or will you be using proxies?

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  8. Thanks for the review, Jonathan. Sounds like a no-nonsense, fun set of rules; and can't beat the price. Enjoy your future games with them!

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    1. You are welcome, Dean! My first game was quite fun and full of drama. I plan to enjoy the rules again soon.

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  9. Interesting rules for a fascinating period...sounds great!

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  10. Currently on Amazon.com for $6.58. The sales report suggests someone here has just gone and ordered a copy!

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  11. Thanks fir review Jonathan. Have to try something new... When children will be older :))

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    1. You are welcome, Michal. Women and children first!

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  12. Interesting review, although I don’t think I’ll be collecting Sumerian’s for a while. I might struggle with the grid as well 🤔

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    1. At least you read the review! I thank you for that.
      I knew you might have challenges with rules based on a grid. As for fielding Sumerian armies, they are a bit esoteric for mainstream wargaming periods.

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    2. It is odd how people react to the grid. If you look at pictures of the game Jon played in you would be hard pushed to see where the grid is. I use both measuring and grids, depending on what I'm trying to model. The grid does a lot of the heavy lifting for some aspects of game management, and for battle-line games it works very well. Simon Miller, famously, was anti-squares until he finally "got it" and produced To The Strongest.

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    3. I am hesitant to speak for Matt (but I will!). It may come down to aesthetics. If you look at some of Matt's games, you will see to what a high standard he sets the table. In many situations, imposing a grid over (or under) the table full of terrain would be impractical.

      Here is a link to a series of outtakes from Matt's Sea Lion Campaign game pulled together as a video.

      https://youtu.be/btXuujG0wlk

      Inspiring cinematography.

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  13. Thanks for the review Jonathan!
    "A unit can be in one of three morale states: Fight, Fright, or Flight. "
    As a psychologist and wargamer I love this design choice :)

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    1. Thanks. Once I'd decided it was about how much people were scared of each other, the design choice sort of made itself.

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    2. You are welcome, Mark! It is a good design choice but for me, it is a real tongue twister when said fast.

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    3. Cheers, friend and I just purchased it and will give it a run in a couple of weeks time :)

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    4. Huzzah! Then it's all been worthwhile. Please let us know what you think, or better still, write a blog post! If you have any questions on how it all works, there's an email address in the rule book, and I do reply to all enquiries.

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    5. They are such nice people down there. Truly they are. Apart from Brokenwood, which is the murder capital of the southern hemisphere.

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    6. Cheers, and yes will do a blog post :)

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  14. Nice review Jonathan, and I do like the idea of a gridded table. My question is what is it in the rules that makes them applicable to the pre-Biblical era in particular rather than ancients more broadly?

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    1. Thanks, Lawrence! I enjoy gaming on a grid too.

      You ask a good question better answered by the author, Graham. Looking at army lists for Impetvs and To the Strongest!, both include Sumeria within the Bronze Age. Units types are similar across the Age of Bronze period. The biggest difference may be in the way battle carts are treated vs chariots, proper. Battle carts were heavy with a very restricted turning capability. Given those attributes, perhaps, these carts were more of a shock weapon than chariots seen later?

      My plan is to give the rules a try with my Hittites/Egyptians/Assyrians/Babylonians after making modifications for these chariots vs Sumerian battle carts. I may simply use the Hittite chariots as a proxy for a battle cart without modification to start. Any suggestions?

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    2. That was the only potential difference that crossed my mind Jonathan, and your adjustments seem sensible to me. It would be interesting to hear why Graham hasn't overtly broadened the scope to include the entire Bronze age period, although I suppose it is self-evident they would be applicable and I do like the name of the rules.

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    3. Yeah, the title of the rules will be a classic!

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    4. Why don't they do later bronze age? When I write rules I look very specifically at the armies/conflicts I want to model, and work out for myself what I think the salient features of warfare in that period are. I then try and write rules that reflect that. The rules only cover Sumerians as that's what I'd researched. From what I know of later bronze age warfare (let's not get into that now) Egyptian and Hittite chariots are fast moving and lightweight missile platforms. Battle Carts are most decidedly not tow of those at least. My conclusion was that their purpose was to inspire feat in the enemy and deliver elite warriors into Hand to Hand combat against troops who were close to already beaten. That's what "To Ur" models, through the Fear Test and the weightings in the combat system. My other rules are also period/theatre specific, as will my next set, which will be Spanish Civil War.

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    5. Thanks for the explanation. In our first game, is your hunch that my battle carts were more effective than they ought to have been?

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    6. You had a pretty much perfect run. Everything that needed to go right, went right. Opponents were intimidated in the fear tests, and with knees knocking fell beneath the trundling wheels of your massed donkey carts. Never seen it go better for a player.

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  15. Thanks for the re4view, Jon. Sumerian warfare being such a small niche, it would seem that broadening it to encompass the Chariot era, at least through New Kingdom Egypt and possibly the Early to Mid Assyrian empire would be sensible and not terribly difficult!

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    1. You are welcome! I agree that an expansion seems a reasonable goal.

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    2. You'd be surprised how big the Sumerian niche is! The aim is to model the period, not necessarily to sell bags of rules to any taker even though that'd be nice. I've indicated above that I think what I've got here models Sumerian warfare specifically - although I have been told that it doesn't by someone who couldn't then tell me what Sumerian warfare did look like. I may return to the period for Egyptians and Hittites, except that my armies are in need of a bit of repair. When I do I expect that I will start to tinker with To Ur and end up somewhere completely different. That's normally what happens.

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    3. Research and study often take us somewhere unexpected!

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  16. Jonathan,
    I've been to Ur in Iraq, and climbed the Ziggurat! That was a humbling experience for sure!

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    1. That must have been a thrilling experience. I would say you were lucky but you were likely on tour in the service. I would enjoy visiting the area one day. Will it ever be possible? Maybe not.

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    2. You are correct! It was definitely a service-connected visit :)

      You would love it, I think. It's rich with history - the whole country!

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    3. It's on my list of places to go too, but I suspect not in my lifetime. If the Fusilier has any photos of the ziggurat I'd love to put one in the rule book, next time I upload a set of typo corrections (not that I have found any at the moment). I was very lucky to be able to visit Iran before relations with them were put back decades, and it is a terrible shame to put it mildly that we cannot visit these places and meet the people. Despite being English - and very clearly English - I met nothing but kindness and an open welcome everywhere my wife and I went.

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  17. And no, I would not want to travel there, sadly. Even though Ur is in southern Iraq, arguably more friendly to Americans, their "neighbor" to the east is all over the place there, and they are extremely unpleasant to any Americans that they, or their proxies, happen across.

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    1. Steve, it is too bad the world situation is such that free travel is restricted. Of course, at present, we are discouraged from traveling ANYWHERE!

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  18. Nicely written overview of the game. These types of posts serve the community as anyone interested will stumble across it and get good information. 😀

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    1. Much appreciated, Stew! First, I must get someone to stumble across it!

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  19. Very exotic period - but very interesting too. I love to see typical buildings from the period arising on your table.

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    1. Very exotic, for sure. I will have to consider buildings when I reach that point.

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    2. I mainly use generic mud huts with straw roofs. They turn up everywhere on my table.

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    3. I use the same buildings for Sumerians, Classical Greeks, Medieval Spain and the Indian Mutiny...they're the equivalent of the "peasant smock" in the Art of Coarse Acting, if you're ever read that. If you haven't, then you should. Hilarious.

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  20. Ok here is our first playtest :)
    https://hordesofthings.blogspot.com/2020/12/to-ur-is-human-playtest.html

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