Friday 27 November 2009

Alexander at the Cilician Gates

After securing Asia Minor, Alexander had two possible routes to further conquest. He could either skirt the southern coastline of the Black Sea, or head south-east into the Levant. He chose the second option, since a victory here would block any further Persian attempts to wrest control of the rich pickings of Egypt, and lay those open to his own forces.

His army (in red, above) came across the Persians in as strong a position as they could find, in a last-ditch attempt to stop him breaking out from Asia Minor. They had found a reasonably large central low rise with a steep hill to either flank. Alexander's army deployed with a right wing of most of the light infantry (Ian). Next came the Hypaspists, the central phalanxes and a small number of skirmish archers (Simon). The column of Companions, led by Alexander in person, was located in position behind the Hypaspists so as to look for the moment of breakthrough. Their left flank comprised the light horse and the Thessalians, with some light infantry support (Mark).

The Persians set up in a shallow crescent formation, both flanks anchored on the steep hills. The left flank (William) had some skirmish archers on the steep hill, with two large columns of light infantry in hiding behind the hill. The link with the centre was provided by two large units of Persian cavalry of average quality. The right flank (me) more or less mirrored the left, but with the elite and heavy cavalry. The centre deployed in two lines. Skythian horse archers and Persian light horse were to the front, and the rest of the army was behind (a mixture of hoplites, colonist militia cavalry, and more light horse). The mainstay was a unit of hoplites holding the central rise. William and I shared command of the centre.

The Persian plan was simple: skirmish with the front line in the centre as long as possible, delaying and disrupting the inevitable advance of the phalanxes, while at the same time keeping the second line out of the action for as long as possible. One or both wings were to try to stretch the Macedonian flanks and sandpaper them away. The idea was a molasses strategy: chuck loads of of inferior troops and firepower across the front and degrade as much of the enemy as possible, hoping that by the time the crisis came in the centre our superior numbers and firepower would give us the edge.

And it worked. The Macedonians were slowly ground down by good missile fire and individual opportunity attacks on the wings, and the phalanxes were incrementally damaged by shooting from the skirmishing light horse in the centre. On they came, taking more and more grief until the phalanxes finally came into contact with the Persian second line, and with the units protecting the flanks of the phalanx falling one by one to a combination of firepower and melee. Persian dice were quite good across the field for the entire Macedonian advance, and the Macedonians just did not perform quite so well as they should have in the various combats. This meant that each time a unit of, say, Thessalians, defeated some enemy, it took them longer than it should have, thus giving the Persians more time to inflict more damage. The sheer number of units the Persians had available enabled them to make wave attacks, each one grinding down the opposition that bit more.

Eventually, the Companions were the only troops left on the Macedonian right, surrounded by huge numbers of missile troops. In the centre, the Persian second line cracked but held its morale. And on the left, the Macedonian light cavalry were destroyed and the Thessalians badly battered. The Persians lost large numbers of troops, but then they could afford to do so.

And suddenly the Macedonians collapsed under the pressure. Alexander and the Companions fell to a hail of javelins and arrows before they could intervene in the centre. The Hypaspists were held up in a grinding fight against some mercenary hoplites (the same happened to the leftmost phalanx on the other side of the field). One of the central phalanxes was routed by a combination of shooting degradation, darting light cavalry attacks and the hoplites on the hill, disordering another on morale. And the entire Macedonian left flank disintegrated under the pressure there.

All of which left us with a problem. Alexander has now "died" three times on the battlefield, and yet at the same time the boardgame needs his Great Captain status. We came up with a compromise: Alexander miraculously survived a near-death experience (again!), but has lost his physical energy. So he will count for campaign purposes as being able to plan as a Great Captain, but he loses its battlefield effects. In other words, his personal magnetism keeps the Macedonians going, but he will be relying on his field generals to make the conquests for him. We felt the need to make some sort of compromise between the strategic boardgame and events on the battlefield.

This brings us to the end of Turn 2; I'll make a separate shorter post summarising the Turn and setting out where we go from here. Which has turned out to be quite interesting...

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