Lost Battles by Philip Sabin uses game theory to analyze army sizes from historical battles. Our knowledge of ancient battles is often spare, inaccurate or deliberately misleading. The one constant, is that most ancient battles were fought by choice – both generals needed to seek engagement for a battle to happen. The premise being, battles only occurred if both Generals thought that they stood the best chance to win, i.e. both armies were within a degree of parity. Sabin creates a game system which incorporates leadership, moral, fighting skill amongst a number of other traits – then attempts to balance the opposing armies for the battle’s historical result.
As an example – Caesar’s battles in Gaul are well documented by Caesar’s own text. We know how many legions were at each battle. We know if the legions were freshly raised or veteran. We also have a good understanding of the number of men in each legion. In contrast, we know very little about the tribes which battled against Rome. Enemy numbers vary significantly and can we trust troop sizes from a book written as a propaganda tool? Using the game system, Sabin is able to estimate the number of tribesmen present at the battle as a balance vs the “known” number of Roman soldiers.
From a gamer’s point of view, Lost Battles is an excellent resource. The book literally lays out battles in gamers terms – number of units, historical deployment, historical results. His system uses a concept of Key Zone – a section of the battle field that the army needs to occupy to receive a moral bonus. The Key Zone encourages generals to match the historical result through way of a reward. Players may very well see something like it appearing in Adepticon’s 2012 WAB tournaments.
The author maintains a site containing an over view of the game system with links to a computer simulator using the book’s game mechanic. A Lost Battles board game is also available from Fifth Column Games.