From Slingshot (the Official Journal of the Society of Ancients), March 2003

First, a caveat.  I have not used these rules, except for a solo run-through to which they are not well suited.  This review is based on a careful reading and general impressions.

The rules are written by Society member Robert Avery.     The booklet contains a page of design notes, 44 pages of rules, 12 sample army lists, a photo-copyable roster sheet and a quick reference sheet.  It is clearly set out and easy to follow, with some nice black and white illustrations.

The rules are intended for 25mm, 15mm or smaller figures, mounted on multi-figure bases.  Here’s the first drawback – the basing standards are not compatible with those for other rules sets.  Base frontages may be 6”, 5”, 4” or 3” (1” = 2cm for 25mm figures, 1cm for 15mm figures) with the vast majority being 6".  The rules contain suggestions for using figures based to different standards so the issue shouldn't be a show-stopper.  That said, the large numbers of figures on most bases (up to 12 infantry or 6 cavalry per base) do give a satisfying impression of mass.  Troops are classified in several ways – by morale (Levy, Average, Veteran, Elite), order, type (Light Infantry, Heavy Cavalry, Two-Horse Light Chariot etc), and weaponry.   

The strongest part of the rules, in my view, is the command and control aspect.  All armies are organised into contingents (“brigades” for regulars) of 2-6 bases, each commanded by a “leader”.  2-6 leaders are commanded by a “sub-general”, 2-6 sub-generals by a “general” and 2-6 generals by a “commander-in-chief”.  Small armies will usually have only a few leaders plus a single sub-general, but there is provision for massive armies with a proper chain of command.

At deployment, only “leader bases” are put on the table.  Each of these is large enough to hold 6 troop bases but initially only the actual leader is placed; to find out the number and types of troops in each contingent, enemy leaders must “spot” (dice throws modified by distance and terrain).  I like this.

Each leader has a die-roll worth of command points.  These can be used to change a contingent’s or junior leader’s orders, spot enemy, rally disordered, shaken or routed troops, or be passed on to junior leaders.  Orders can be given outside the chain of command, at double the normal cost.  All contingents must have written orders, which are specified as Attack, Forward, Hold or Retreat, with a tight definition for each term – so if you’ve committed troops to the attack, for instance, it takes command points to stop them.  You also need command points to re-order your troops after they’ve fought hand-to-hand, or after they’ve undertaken complicated manoeuvres such as wheeling or moving obliquely outside permitted limits.  All this is excellent stuff.

Morale is handled through a simplified version of the old WRG “Reaction Test” (Bob O’Brien takes yet another bow).  This includes such things as numbers of friendly and enemy units nearby, enemy attacking flank or rear, routed friends etc.  Familiar stuff, but the combat table has some new ideas.  Combat is done by comparing each base’s strength, with numerous modifiers including a die roll.  Each side takes casualties, then the loser takes a morale check which may result in disorder, becoming shaken or routing.  The game may end in any of several ways – loss of the highest-ranking leader, loss of 75% of the army’s bases (destroyed or routed), loss of a pre-nominated baggage base or loss of a pre-designated terrain feature.

Things I didn’t like about the rules, apart from the need to rebase figures, included the use of roster sheets (each base has a strength of 6 to 17 and losses are checked off on the sheet), the need for markers to indicate disorder etc, and the return of “scouting points” to give deployment advantages (including the right to attempt off-table flank marches).  I’ve become used to rules with no record keeping or paperwork. 

Overall, though, the game looks to play smoothly and the rules include some really good ideas.  I recommend getting a copy even if you have no intention of playing them.

Vis Bellica is available at £9.99 from Ordered Flexibility.  See for details.  Three books of army lists and a fantasy version, Vis Magica, are promised shortly.

John Graham-Leigh, Editor Slingshot

From Spearpoint, the magazine of the North American Society of Ancient and Medieval Wargamers (NASAMW), April 2003:

Confessions of a Rules Junkie:  Vis Bellica, the first time.

Firstly let me admit, I'm on a search for the perfect set of rules.  

Yes, I know they can't exist but I just keep looking. So when Vis Bellica was advertised I immediately bought a copy and set off (after reading them) to my local wargames club.  At the club I recruited two other players and we played Byzantine vs Arab Empire using DBA elements on coasters, as the base sizes for VB are bigger than those for DBM.  

The individual mechanisms are clear and well described and within a few moves we all had a good handle on how to move, melee and shoot.  What the rules didn't highlight enough, however, is how differently these mechanisms are put together, particularly the charge phase.

Basically the game is straight forward.  Each leader has an order (Attack, Hold etc) and at least 50% of their subordinate bases must be given the same one.  You don't spend command dice to move, but to change orders and rally.  The current strength and orders a base is operating under are recorded on a roster sheet.  The 'official ' melee and rout phases are for bases still in contact after the previous turn's charge phase.

The charge phase is the heart of the game.  Each player declares all their charges and each is then resolved in strict order of shortest to longest distance.  The charging base moves, takes reaction fire and has morale resolved.  Then the melee is fought and the outcome resolved, all before the next base charges.  This means a base could be involved in a number of melees during a single charge phase.  This produces what the designer describes as a 'rugby maul' as units crash into each other.  If you live over the pond and aren't into rugby, imagine a running play in the NFL. The outcome of each block and tackle being resolved in the sequence they occur.

I have played a few more games since that first, with various players.  While not yet convincing anybody to burn their own favourite set of rules, all of the reactions have been positive.  Players of our in-house rules (figure removal) and our DBMers have actually played together!  We have found Vis Bellica is a set of rules that both groups are happy to play, at least occasionally. 

Robert Avery has done a brave thing.  He has written a playable rules set that challenges the almost universal acceptance of DBA/M/R.  They are different in almost all aspects, even down to the base sizes.   He has produced a rules set which has a very different feel and character to them.  If you fancy a change, give them a try.   They might even broaden your circle of friends!

Mike Parsons

From Wargames Journal, April 2003

Before writing a review of these rules we thought it might be an idea to play the game a few times, a novel concept but we thought it might help!

Having benefited from an opportunity to play a game with its Author, Robert Avery, I felt confident enough to have a go at the local club.

Army Lists

The Vis Bellica rulebook contains twelve sample army lists, grouped into paired historical opponents. The excellent web site set up to support the rules also contains army lists as well as the usual Q&A and hints and tips type information. Robert seems very approachable through his site in terms of answering questions or even posting favourite army lists when requested. The New Kingdom Egyptian and the Aztec army lists were both posted following a request by myself. 

Several army list books are also in production with the first, covering the classical Chariot Wars period, recently published.

After much debate and figure collection searches we decided one of the play test games should be the French verses the English 100 Years War. 

What follows is a discussion of the game and any pertinent rules related points that derived from playing it.

The Opposing Armies

The dastardly French, still unwilling to accept that Normandy formed a vital part of England’s green and pleasant land, was organised into four ‘brigades’ and consisted of the following Units based on the sample order of battle:

Brigade 1: 4 bases of Knights
Brigade 2: 4 bases of Knights
Brigade 3: 4 bases of Crossbowmen
Brigade 4: 1 base of Brigans and 1 base of Hand gunners.
Un-brigaded: 1 Train base and 2 False Leaders.

The heroic English were organised as five ‘brigades’ and consisted of the following units:

Brigade 1: 2 bases of Men-At-Arms and 1 base of Hobilars
Brigade 2: 2 bases of Men-At-Arms
Brigade 3: 1 base of Mounted Archers and 3 bases of Archers
Brigade 4: 4 bases of Archers
Brigade 5: 1 base of Heavy Artillery and 1 base of Welsh Knifemen
Un-brigaded: 1 Train base and 2 False Leaders.

A Leader, mounted on his own base; captained each brigade and each army was controlled by a Sub-General, also mounted on his own base.

The rules contain sample order of battle sheets to use for each army that are very reminiscent of the system used by the well-established Principles of War rules.

Basing the Troops

Vis Bellica uses an element-based system with stand sizes different from those used for DBx. This is a brave move from the author, as the DBx regimen is basically the de facto standard for the period.

The rules do contain the usual caveat that they will work with almost any basing system provided both sides follow the same basing convention. They also suggest several ways of adapting other basing systems without the need for re-basing of figures.

‘Official’ Vis Bellica bases are a standard 6cm x 3cm for 15mm infantry and cavalry. In 25mm the bases are 12cms by 6cms. 

The number of figures on the base is determined by their ‘order’: defined as close, open or skirmish. This has the same sort of effect as the old WRG regular or irregular classifications. Close order bases have 12 foot or 6 mounted figures on them; open order bases have 9 foot or 5 mounted on them; and skirmish order bases have 7 foot or 4 mounted figures on them.

For this game I decided to spend half an hour with scissors and a piece of green card to prepare the necessary Vis Bellica bases. When these were ready I placed my DBx figures on to these ready for action. Lined up ready for deployment, the big Vis Bellica elements did look suitably powerful, like proper medieval “battles”.

If you want you could consider using four DBx infantry stands grouped in two ranks of two columns and two cavalry bases grouped side by side. I would also use special units such as elephants based as per DBx. For infantry and cavalry this is 2cm wider than the supposed Vis Bellica frontage and also gives a variable depth to the bases depending on the type of DBx infantry used or whether it is cavalry. Fudging this for the first few games will however give an easier way for DBx players to try out the rules.

Defeat Conditions

The rules suggest that players use the optional defeat conditions to help bring battles between evenly matched sides to a conclusion. We agreed that both sides would each have a single defeat condition.

The English chose the rather splendidly named defeat condition “Big Man Down”. This meant that if King Harry, the English Sub-General, fell during the battle then his men would flee the field and the French would win.

The French also chose “Big Man Down” but, exhibiting typical Gallic deviousness, made the target their Train base. 

This meant that their defeat condition was unlikely to have any effect on the battle unless the English advanced or the French baggage attacked!

The Battlefield

Neither side wanted a battlefield cluttered with too many trees or hills, although the English were naturally keen to include as many newly-ploughed fields as France’s EEC farming subsidies would allow.

The rules allow one standard sized piece of terrain to be placed for each Leader in the force. Each side places a terrain feature, including patches of open ground, in turn. Terrain can either be Open, Rough, Difficult or Impassable, with the obvious penalties applying to movement as a result.

In the end, both sides anchored one of their flanks on a small village, and the centre was neatly divided into a checkerboard of ploughed fields (Difficult terrain) and carefully manicured bowling greens (Open terrain).


Vis Bellica uses a scouting system akin to the old WRG 6th Edition rules and under this the English deployed first.

The rules use leader bases for initial deployment. These are large bases, each capable of holding up to six element or unit bases. There is one leader base per leader (or brigade) in a force. Units are not deployed from their allocated leader base until the leader base is spotted. This allows a certain amount of deception to take place, especially if using the option for false leaders, as all you initially see of the enemy is where the leader bases are: not what’s on them or whether they are false or not.

The English, being bluff and hearty (and, some would say, distinctly lacking in tactical ability), deployed their archers behind stakes in a nice long line in the centre of the field, with the artillery in the centre of the archers. The men-at-arms were deployed behind the archers, with the two false leaders being used to suggest a threat to the French sides unanchored flank.

The French stacked their knights on the right flank, intending to attempt an overwhelming charge at one end of the English line. The French crossbowmen were deployed next to the knights, with false leaders holding the centre and the handgunners and brigans defending the left flank. The French had heard of Agincourt and Crecy, but obviously reckoned they had lost because of uncoordinated and unsupported attacks, something they didn’t intend to repeat.


Once the troops had been deployed, it was time to give each brigade their initial orders.

First, each leader is given an order. There are four possible orders: attack, forward, hold or retreat. 

Attack means that you have to move at least half of your maximum move towards the enemy and charge to contact as soon as possible. Forward can only be issued to “shooting” troops, and means that you have to move forward into missile range as soon as possible, although once within range you can do what you like. Hold and retreat should be obvious.

Leaders must then issue appropriate orders to the bases or units in their brigades. At least half of the bases in a leader’s command must have the same order as the leader. This gives some tactical flexibility within their strategic orders but not carte blanche.

Orders are marked on the order of battle sheets for the leaders and units. The French decided to advance with their knights (attack), supported by the crossbowmen (forward). The hand gunners would hold until the mystery leader bases opposite them were properly identified. The English issued hold orders to everyone except the false leaders, who would advance (attack).

The Play Test Game Begins

The Vis Bellica turn sequence is simple. The turn starts with a mandatory phase covering the things over which you have no control. This includes standard fare such as rout moves but also the fighting of any melees.

Next is a command phase in which you attempt to issue new orders to your troops, and then an action phase where all the things you’ve ordered hopefully take place. At the start of the turn a d6 is rolled for each officer, the result is the number of command points available to that officer this turn. Command points can be used to change the orders of a subordinate general or unit; they can be passed on to a subordinate officer so that he can use them; they can be used to rally troops from bad morale or from disorder or they can be used for spotting enemy leader bases. 

On the first turn with both sides happy with their initial orders the command points were used for spotting and not much else.

With the battlefield being obstacle free the English easily spotted all bar one of the French leader bases, forcing them to deploy their actual unit bases onto the field and too remove the two false leader bases. As it was obvious that the one still-concealed French leader base was another brigade of knights these were also deployed.

For their part, the French, crucially, failed to spot one of the English Men-At-Arms Brigades and one of their false leaders. This meant that their hand gunners and brigans were still needed to guard their left flank, something that would come back to haunt them later in the battle.

Next it was time for movement. The English stayed put, as per their hold orders, except for the remaining false leader base on the right flank that moved towards the French hand gunners. The French knights and crossbowmen started across no-man’s-land towards the English left flank.

Officer Casualties

As both sides were still out of shooting range it was time for the last part of the turn was, officer casualties. Here each officer rolls a number of d6 dependent on how close they are to the enemy. 

If all of the dice roll six the officer has been injured and possibly killed. This was great fun, even at long range, with one English leader almost spontaneously combusting by rolling three sixes on four dice!

Subsequent Turns

The French now spotted the advancing English false leader base and, no longer needing them to protect their flank, successfully ordered the hand gunners and brigans forward to the attack.

The English allowed the French cavalry and crossbowmen to continue their advance before opening fire with their artillery and longbows. 

Although the crossbowmen were able to advance across one of the patches of open ground, some of the knights had got caught up in the ploughed field next to it. The Vis Bellica system for dealing with movement across bad terrain is quick, logical and simple. There is no need to calculate fractions of a turn in one terrain type, fractions of a turn in another terrain type, the knights that hit the ploughed fields slowed down and became disordered. 

With the command system encouraging brigades to stick together and with some of their number still on open ground, the knights now formed four rough lines of two bases each instead of the original two lines of four bases each, seemingly mimicking what happened at Agincourt.

The English opened up on the leading French knights with three longbow bases and the artillery at long range causing one casualty to one of the bases. This was marked off against the unit’s strength on the order of battle sheet. This also seemed to match what I remembered of Agincourt: long range fire having little effect except to enrage the French into continuing their impetuous charge forward.

On turn three the French used their command points to re-order the knights that had become disordered from bad terrain; and continued to advance across the line, although the crossbowmen halted at the edge of the ploughed field immediately in front of the English and prepared to open fire. 

The hand gunners and brigans were now trudging forward across muddy fields.

The English, meanwhile, were frantically changing orders to meet the developing French attack. The right hand brigade of archers were ordered forward to allow them to pivot and shoot at the enemy, and the right hand brigade of Men-At-Arms were ordered to the left flank to face the main expected point of impact. These order changes illustrated one of the strengths of the Vis Bellica command and control system. The English rolls for command points had been average with barely enough to change the number of orders needed. If the English had been under more pressure, perhaps with bases to re-order or rally, or a complete change of orders across the board to impose then priorities would need to be set and not everybody could do what was required of them.

The English then shot again, and a few more French knights fell. The French replied with their crossbowmen, doing one casualty to the archers.

Over the next two or three turns both sides continued to evolve their plans. The French knights trundled forward and, due to the checkerboard pattern of the terrain, started to form back into two lines. 

However, where they could, the English had been concentrating their fire on the lead two bases of knights. Both of these had now taken 50% casualties and had to retire from the field before hitting charge range. One base of crossbowmen had also gone, as half of the longbow brigade had been shooting at them.

The English now had the right hand half of their archers forward of their defensive stakes, and were anxiously gauging the progress of the French brigans and hand gunners. Fortunately they were still bogged down in muddy terrain towards their flank. 

Both sets of English men-at-arms were now facing the French advance, still with hold orders.

The English commander was worried that he wouldn’t have enough command points to order them all to attack at the same time. 

The artillery and rest of the archers had taken quite a few casualties: with one base of archers routing from the field after three turns of concentrated crossbow bombardment.

The French Charge

Into turn six, the French knights were now able to charge the archers if they wished. 

The French used their command points to re-organise their disordered knights again, and prepared to charge. The English still held the knights behind the archers, but ordered the other brigade of knights to attack.

Both sides now declared their charges. Seeing the English men-at-arms in position to intercept a charge at the archers, the lead two bases of French knights charged their English equivalents, which were also spurring their horses forward into contact. The rest of the French knights charged the left hand brigade of archers on the corner of their defensive formation: if they got to contact, four bases of knights would fight two bases of longbow.

Charges under Vis Bellica are resolved in order of proximity: closest first. The four bases of knights smashed into each other with an almighty “clang”. 

Although the English men-at-arms were, base for base, slightly superior to their French opponents the French had their king at their head. 

Vis Bellica's melee system is relatively quick and simple and is based on a comparison of a unit’s remaining strength, plus various factors and a random die roll. The system does use a divisor, which took some getting used to but probably only due to inexperience. Melee is another element reminiscent of WRG 6th Edition. In my opinion it’s one of the strengths of the system as it manages to recapture the flavour and colour lost in the DBx systems. In Vis Bellica it matters again that only the front rank had shields or only a half of the unit had Javelins. The system is a lot faster and more intuitive however than the trauma of the interminable 6th Edition +/- factors list. 

In the end, the armoured clash the result was effectively a draw. Both sides took about one third casualties and with neither side having any particular advantage, the melee would continue next turn at the point of impact.

The English archers decided to try and halt half the French with longbow fire: two bases shooting at one French base. At short range, the longbows get a bonus, and both target knight bases were smashed into the ground by a hail of arrows. Not bad going: the only problem was that there were still two bases of knights thundering forward.

Seven hundred charging French knights contacted twelve hundred English infantry and, despite the stakes, ran straight over them, annihilating both bases!

In the shooting phase the remaining English archers who hadn’t yet fired exchanged another volley with the French crossbowmen, one base on either side now going shaken as a result.

The English then took a volley in the flank from the French hand gunners who had now finally advanced into range. Fortunately, the French were penalised for both moving and for being at long range and the volley was ineffective, but this boded ill for the next turn.

Officer casualties then dealt the English another blow. The leader of the English archers charged by the French knights was horribly wounded, and would pay little part in the rest of the game. 


In the central armoured clash of knight vs knight the better quality English now began to overwhelm the French. The French were first shaken, and then routed, with the English hobilars chasing them from the field.

The French knights having slaughtered the English archers were now themselves hit by the remaining English men-at-arms (orders neatly switched from hold to attack).

With the French caught at the halt in disorder they were quickly dispatched with hardly any casualties to the English.  This left the remaining English longbow and artillery free to duel with the French crossbowmen and hand gunners: an equal contest until the victorious English knights joined in and the French fled the field.

Vis Bellica certainly provided an exciting battle, and one that seemed to be fairly realistic in both process and outcome.

The French managed to concentrate and support their charges better than they did at, say, Agincourt, and therefore did better than their historical counterparts.  In the end, however, their knights were neutralised by terrain and longbow fire, and, with equal points on either side, they didn’t have the strength in depth to win the day with a straightforward attack.


After the battle the two commanders listed what we had liked and disliked about the rules.


  • The “look and feel” of the game.
  • The command and control system (this was excellent).
  • The movement through terrain system.
  • Officer casualties 


  • Basing: it doesn’t use either WHAB or DBx base sizes.

In summary the game was fun and flowed well. We’ll certainly be playing again, and would recommend the rules to anyone who plays the Ancients or Medieval period for something different than the DBx norm.

Andrew Walpole

From The Miniatures Page, July 2003

OK, having listened to the comments on the Board, I ordered a set.  It turned up on Friday morning and, having a day's holiday, I sat and read it through. Today I played my first game.

1. The rules are well written in plain English that doesn't give me a migraine. Certain rulesets of which I am still very fond and am perhaps the most vocal champion of on this forum could do well to take note.

2. The rules are fairly straightforward, logical and simple.  There is no amazing new mechanism that will blow your mind but rather a sensible gathering of good mechanisms that work well together.

3. The rules play well and seem to reward historical tactics.  My first playtest against Number 1 son saw a virtual re-fight of Bremule 1119AD with a very similar outcome.  There is a strong incentive to use reserves and lines of troops. Battle lines MATTER now.  Drawing up two very very long lines really won't work any more.

4. The price is ok. Ten pounds is not extortionate, nor is it particularly cheap.  I think I got value for money.

5. I will probably not rush to buy the Army Lists.  Why?  Because the author is sufficiently good natured to provide enough information so that you can work out most lists for yourself if you are well steeped in other wargaming rules.  For instance, two DBM armies crawled out of their boxes today and were able to take the field quite smoothly.  The Vis Bellica website is also a source of more army lists. I am not used to buying a ruleset that allows me to run a reasonable game without trying to extract more cash for the supplements and for this I applaud the author's goodwill and fairplay.  This probably means that I'll get the army lists anyway but there is no real pressure to do so since Vis Bellica is complete as it comes.  For those who prefer an ancients ruleset that seems engineered to sucking money out of your wallet with Must Have supplements on an apparently neverending treadmill you might find this a startlingly refreshing change.

6. There were a few questions that I had and I didn't quite understand a couple of points.  Looking back this was due to my inability to read plain English not the rules themselves.  However, I fired off an email to Robert Avery and received a full response the same day.  Bit scary that, Robert: don't you have a social life? :-)  However, it was really impressive.

7. I'll tell you what I most liked about this ruleset shall I?  I didn't have to worry about millimetres and angles and whether my skirmishers could sneak into the flank like another ruleset of which I am still very fond.

I didn't worry whether my latest supplement trumps the special rule that the last rulebook made canon and whether my wrists would recover in time to roll another bucket of dice.

I was worried that those silly buggers on the right wing wouldn't stop chasing the routing enemy and get back into the centre.

Like NOW.


Naturally, they didn't.

Perhaps that's how it should be.

Go and buy this ruleset.  It's a good ruleset and I can see that I could do some very interesting scenarios with it.

It will probably never appeal to the competition playing tabletoppers because it feels too good natured a ruleset to ever be subject to the vile temperaments that tournaments bring out.  If I ever feel the testosterone levels rising or I've had a bad day with the German VAT authorities I will undoubtedly still reach for DBM.  However, if I want a fun game that actually works and plays well, my fingers will probably end up stopping at this part of the shelf above my desk.

Finally, since some folk are always suspicious, before any of you ask: no I have never met nor have any connection with the author or his associates.


From Slingshot, February 2004

A State of Mind:  A Comparison of DBM and Vis Bellica

After a break from tabletop wargaming of several years I came back to Ancients at the time of the issue of DBM v3.0.  I was impressed.  I had previously drifted away from the Accountancy manuals of other wargame rules and returned to find exactly what I was looking for:  a simple, book-keeping-free system that looked and felt about right and gave me the historical results I hoped for.  If you do what the ancient generals are described as doing then you are likely to enjoy the same rewards as they received.  So far, so good.  Since then I have tried several other sets of rules.  Most were quickly filed on the shelf for inclusion o the next bring and buy sale at the club.  One of them has stood the test of time:  Vis Bellica by Rob Avery.  It has not replaced DBM and I run the two systems quite happily but for different reasons and different games.  Why?

Firstly, for those who are not familiar with either system, a précis.

DBM is a high level bird’s eye view of the battlefield from a general's perspective.  There is no nitty-gritty casualty report or bookkeeping.  You see your troops advance, engage and either triumph or get rolled back.  Emphasis is on the overall command and control of the army.  The mechanics arte simple, and are based around an opposed d6 dice roll with modifiers.  The rules are comprehensive, almost exhaustive in their closure of loopholes and I consider them the most robust set of rules for competition play.  Unfortunately there is a certain element in the Gaming Community that have a certain rulesmanship approach to the system, which has given the game an undeservedly bad image over recent years.  However, when played amongst Men of Good Will, it is still a fine system that works well and gives a tight, competitive game that is fun.

Vis Bellica is completely different, in some ways almost a throwback to the older style of game rules.  Troops are classed by drill, weapon and experience.  Each unit has strength points, which are whittled away as casualties are suffered.  There is a little book-keeping (okay there is a piece of paper you have to keep track of the unit's current strength on:  hardly taxing now, is it?) and the game flows smoothly once you're familiar with the mechanics.  There is a table of modifiers to strength but nothing too onerous.  If my 13 and 12 year old sons can work out combat factors in seconds, you seasoned diehards should have no trouble.  To be honest, most of the mechanics should be familiar to any experienced gamer, very familiar.  At first reading this felt a little bit like a manual for creating Frankenstein's monster, but it works.  Rob Avery has used the best bits from different systems, put them together and breathed life into them.  Someone should have done it years ago.

Command and control uses PIPs, err, Command Points, err, Action Points, oh, what the hell, you roll a dice for each commander and that's the number of things you can do!  Superior officers can pass their PIPs down to subordinates.  Units that are only allied rather than regular cost more to control, and units that are a long way away are more difficult to control as well.  It's fine.  It works.  Actually it works rather well.  The commanders' figures are virtual and cannot be attacked directly.  If they get close in to the combat, then they have a major impact on the melee they've joined.  However, they're also likely to die since you roll each turn for officer casualties depending on how near they got to the action.  You can keep them safe in the rear in a camouflaged concrete bunker disguised as a gypsy fortune teller's wagon and they're unlikely to suffer any harm, but they won't really be able to affect the battle all that much.

The acid test is what happens when you try it out.  Well, it works and it's enjoyable.  The game rewards historical tactics and rewards them well.  The games are fast flowing and easy to teach and understand.  It's a lighter, fluffier approach to wargaming and, By Jingo, it's a fun set of rules.  I can heartily recommend them.  Hey give a good and easy way of restaging historical scenarios and doing the slightly wackier things that might be frowned upon under the clinical eye of DBM purists.

So what the down side?  Well, they're written in normal English and therefore could be misinterpreted with ease by those so minded to do so (you know who you are and, if you don't, the rest of us do!).  They would probably not survive the rigours of competition play.  I've no idea if there are secret super troops that are a bargain under the current costing system and frankly don't care.  They are still evolving with amendments being posted to the website.  Some people don't like their rules to evolve under them.  However, all good rule systems do in my humble opinion.

There is one bizarre thing about VB which put me off buying it for a long time.  The basing structure.  For reasons unfathomable to man, Rob Avery set a 15mm scale unit base width as 60mm.  Not 80mm (for two DBM elements) but 60mm.  All those with DBM armies, are you really going to rebase your troops down to 60mm?  No.  Of course not.  Nor was I.  There is now an alternative basing cadre who use four DBM infantry elements or two DBM cavalry elements to represent a unit.  It works just as well and we'll beat Rob over the head with a baseball bat until he includes it in version 2.  However, base width doesn't really matter all that much. (pause).  Yes, I did say that.  I'll repeat it.  Base width doesn't really matter all that much.  How you react to that comment will probably determine how much you'll enjoy Vis Bellica.  If you feel that you are in the presence of an heretic that should be scourged for suggesting such a thing, then don't bother spending your cash.  If you have your interest piqued by it, then you might enjoy.

My shelf has two sets of rules now.  For giving someone a damn good thrashing on a Thursday night down at the club, with a few beers and much shouting of ancient war cries, I would always pick DBM.  For a chill-out game with some friends or a little unusual scenario or for a quick battle before dinner with the boys, then I’d reach for Vis Bellica.  It all depends on your state of mind.


From the Newsletter of The Colorado Military Historians, September 2004

Rules for Ancients by Larry Irons

I bought a copy of Vis Bellica by Robert Avery at Attactix.  I started reading the rules and could not put it down.  It is a very interesting set with some fresh ideas.  If you are a WABit you will like the basing.  Close order infantry are mounted 12 figures in 2 ranks on a stand that is 6" x 3".  In fact all bases are 6" x 3".  Chariot and elephant stands are columnar, while infantry and cavalry are linearly oriented.

These rules are designed to represent big battles.  One close order base of close order foot represents 2 Roman cohorts.  Therefore, and entire legion would consist of 5 bases.

These rules use a command structure that is hierarchical with a CinC, sub-generals, and "brigade" commanders.  2 or more bases are under the command of a leader.  Several leaders are under the command of a sub or wing general.  Generals and leaders are given orders and their bases must move according to their orders.  The leader's bases continue to carry out their orders until the orders are changed or a morale result causes them to fail to carry out the orders.

Shooting, melee and morale are based on a number of factors including the unit's training and morale, armour etc.

I think the rules are worth a look.  I will try and give a demo of the rules in the near future at a CMH event.

From Slingshot, March 2005

Sunny Huntingdon, that home to daredevil innovation and prudent adventure, saw the first national Vis Bellica "Not A Tournament" last October, with guests from around the country coming to try their hands at the rules set that has, with some justification, been called the "marijuana of ancient wargaming". In attendance was the author and special guest (at least I don't think he had to buy his own drinks) Robert Avery, and I must point thanks to the worthy gentlemen of the Huntingdon and District Wargames Society for being such genial hosts and allowing us to use their delightful club venue and well-equipped terrain supplies.

Gamers tried their hand at two or three games each during the day, including Hellenistic historical bashes, the Wars of the Roses' battle of Stoke, two renaissance re-fights of the battle of Garigliano, and a number of fantasy romps using the sister rules Vis Magica. The games were played in the traditional good humour and sportsmanlike fashion for which the Vis Bellica community is famous.

What can we learn from this first, hopefully, of many meetings? Well, if you want a relaxed wargaming experience, come and join us. Vis Bellica is a fun, but serious set of rules that lends itself well to scenario play. We learnt that trying to cross Italian rivers in the raging snow is not a good idea. We learnt that erkin Warbeck might or might not have been the true king of England. We learnt that the Ancient Egyptian undead should never mess with elves. However what we never learnt was why wargamers prefer to stand in the car park and discuss the day's battles rather than stay inside in the warm clubhouse. Maybe next time this will become clear...