Formed units are the sort of regiment you’ve seen in Kings of War, Warhammer or any other game where troops fight in ranks and files, shoulder to shoulder (base to base). In God of Battles this has a fixed formation of 4 models wide with the Leader in the front rank. Depth depends on the number of models listed as part of the unit. This formation only changes as a result of losses in battle.
Loose isn’t a reference to their morals; it simply describes the unit’s formation which is loosely scattered. The models simply have to remain within 4 inches of their Leader and their positioning can change every turn. Easy. This is the classic skirmish unit and works equally well for the nymphs in Quithnilian’s armies and the psychotic beastmen of the Blood Gorged tribes.
This picture shows a unit of mercenary ogre gunners (Loose) facing a couple of units of City Guard (Formed), deployed side by side to form a continuous line. The visual difference between unit types is clear, regardless of the exact models used in each unit. Rules are always easier to remember when they reflect something that’s plainly visible on the tabletop.
In the game the concept of Formed and Loose underlies many rules. Movement is more restrictive for Formed units, arcs different, numbers of models who can get to the front to fight change, and so on. As it makes a vast difference in how individuals fight in reality, so it does in the game. It’s also an excellent shorthand for other units like chariots and cannons. Small, light things generally count as Loose for movement, whilst heavy and cumbersome things count as Formed. It’s all straightforward and easy to remember and allows me to reduce the number of extra rules I need when adding war engines, chariots and monsters.
Loose units are easy to use with the ability to move in any direction and no flanks to worry about. They are fast and flexible. Formed units tend to be bigger and slower. They take more generalship to get the most out of, but when you know what you are doing with them you can shut down a predominantly Loose army completely.
Part of the trick with Formed units is understanding Threat Areas and how to use them. These are an imaginary area which every unengaged Formed unit projects 8 inches directly to its front. Within this zone an enemy unit can only move directly towards or directly away from the unit that projects it. This ability to pin and control the enemy units can be very potent indeed, though it takes a bit of practice to get the most out of it.
View From The Top
The interplay between Formed and Loose units within an army is an interesting puzzle. How many Formed units do you want for a battle line? More is better, but all will be vulnerable. One word: flanks. Dropping back the end unit of a Formed line can protect the flank of the next unit with its Threat Area, and this use of deployment in echelon works very nicely. But who guards their flank? The reason that most Ancient armies included a few light (Loose) troops is replicated here as they perform their historical duties of flank protection and baggage raiding.
One thing that has worked out very well in GoB is this mirroring of real tactics. Obviously it’s still a game with myriad abstractions, but in the main it is proper tactics and considerations that will help you most. The simple Formed/Loose breakdown allows that to be memorised early, and after that you are left to think like a general.
Command your army, not your men.
And armies are the level to consider this. One major difference between the various armies is their mix of Formed and Loose units. Some are entirely comprised of Loose units, such as the Blood Gorged or Godless. Their battle lines are fluid and ever-moving, adapting to the enemy’s actions like water round rocks. With less ability to hold a fixed line securely they often focus on attack.
A few armies are almost all Formed. Quithnilian’s elves are an example of this. However none lack even a single Loose option as these are so important for flanking duties. In the case of the imperial elves it is the nymphs who perform this duty. Even so, these armies rely on their Formed units to fight the bulk of their battles. They suit generals who want more predictable armies who follow set plans. Controlling the battlefield and the enemy is often an aim of such forces.
The majority of armies allow you to choose the mix of Formed and Loose units when you select the army from the list. There are enough choices to pick the kind of force you want to fight with today, against this foe, and you might find yourself tinkering with the army composition frequently, striving for that elusive perfect balance.