Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Alexander in Asia Minor

Yesterday we played Alexander's incursion into Persian-controlled Asia Minor. He wanted to gain a foothold for his planned conquest of the entire Persian Empire and encountered his first serious opposition in a mostly flat plain with some minor rolling hills.

I put together the opposing Persian list and worked out a deployment for them. I reckoned that the Macedonians would lead from their right, with phalanxes en echelon and some left flank guard troops, so I composed a very risky strategy to try to cut them off at the head. All of my best troops were deployed to my left: Armoured and Guard Cavalry; some Guard Infantry; Hoplites; and a screen of skirmish archers. Hidden behind the central hill were some Persian horse and to their right were vast numbers of crud cavalry: colonists and light horse with javelins. On our extreme right was a column of Skythian horse archers ready to skirt the only steep hill on the field, behind which were hidden two units of light infantry. The plan was for the Guard Infantry to move forward and wheel into position to the immediate left of the hoplites, while the left wing cavalry advanced on the extreme left. If it worked, and if the Macedonians deployed as I expected, my best troops would be in position to give Alexander a bad time. The centre was to hold as long as possible, and the right was to start skirmishing with the left of the Macedonian battle line.

The invaders did as I expected, but with an even heavier right wing and almost no left flank guard troops (just a couple of light infantry units). The outcome would rest on events on the Persian left.

This is a close-up of the decision point. I'll describe this in detail, since it's the part of the battle I was most involved in, and because this is where my gamble would be decided. Billy was my opposite number. The Macedonians were deployed as follows:

Pro: 12 Prodromoi in 2 ranks
HC1 and 2: 12 Elite Thessalian Heavy Cavalry in 2 ranks
Com: 18 Companions in 3 ranks, led by Alexander in person.
LC: 12 Thracian Light Cavalry in 3 ranks
P1: 32 Phalangites in 4 ranks
LI1: 18 Light Infantry in 3 ranks
LI3 and 4: 12 Light Infantry in 2 ranks.
The Persians had:
AC1 and 2: 12 Armoured Heavy Cavalry in 2 ranks
GC: 12 Elite Heavy Cavalry in 2 ranks
GI: 24 Elite Heavy Infantry in 3 ranks
H1 and 2: 36 Hoplite Heavy Infantry in 3 ranks
SI1 and 2: 9 Skirmish Archers in a single rank.
The Great Captain rule was in force for Alexander, meaning that any unit within 8" of him would be automatically raised one morale level, so the Companions and the Thessalians were all Legendary troops so long as he lived. Also, since they were being led in person by him, the Companions had a special column attack in which they would fight with all of the figures in their front two ranks, plus two for the general - normally, the number of dice rolled in combat is equal to the number of figures in the front rank. This made the Companions especially deadly, with fourteen dice on a six-figure frontage. It also risked Alexander, because there is always a chance that a general involved in combat could be taken out of action, even with his unit winning.
The first turn saw the expected general advance by the invaders. You can just see the first of their phalanx units hanging back a little en echelon (P1). The Persians moved their mercenary hoplites to defend the edge of the low rise, while swinging the Persian Guard Infantry from their concealed position behind the hill towards the left of the hoplites. The intention here was to place a unit of decent heavy infantry outwith the central deployment zone, effectively reinforcing the heavy cavalry contingent on the Persian extreme left. As it turned out, this placed the Guard Infantry directly in the path of the oncoming Companions.
The inevitable clash arrived, with the Persian skirmishers being dispersed after inflicting a few hits. The Persians took the opportunity to attack the Thracian light horse with the second unit of hoplites, but the left hoplites failed to charge the units in front of them (non-pike infantry facing heavy cavalry have to be within 2" and pass a morale test to attack; if they fail, they can go in automatically the next trun).
The Macedonians had a local advantage against the innermost heavy cavalry unit, AC2, which was fighting against both the Companions and the first unit of Thessalians. This is important, because a unit facing two splits its dice evenly between them. Local superiority of force is therefore rewarded. Similarly, the Persians had a local advantage against the Prodromoi and the Companions, although the latter didn't seem to be too bothered. The fighting was fierce and the initial Persian assault destroyed both the Prodromoi and the Thracians.
After the success against the Prodromoi, the leftmost Persian cavalry continued into the large unit of light infantry securing the Macedonian right flank. The Persian Guard Heavy Cavalry surged forwards into the Thessalians in front of them. Similarly, the second unit of hoplites came off the hill after destroying the Thracians and attacked the phalanx to their front. The other hoplites were now able to engage the second unit of Thessalians and their attendant Light Infantry. Fighting in the crucial sector was now almost universal, the only uncommitted unit being Macedonian LI4, positioned so as to replace LI3 should it be destroyed.
Elsewhere, to the right of this sector, the Macedonian phalanxes advanced ponderously towards the Persian centre, while the Persians started shooting up the leftmost Macedonian Light Infantry. Ian was running this part of the field for the Persians with some rules help from Simon, facing William. Billy was feeling the pressure, and Simon had a quick look at our flank, hoping that we could take out Alexander. My initial thoughts were correct; this was going to be close, either way.
The inner unit of Persian Heavy Cavalry finally broke, but this was where the positioning of the units with elite morale came into its own. When a heavy unit breaks, it causes anyone within 4" to take a morale test or become disordered, which is bad news, especially when engaged. The only exception is when a unit within 4" is well forward of the destroyed troops. In this case, both units of Persian Guards, infantry and cavalry, had to test. Both were rated as Elite morale, so pass on a roll of 6 or higher on 2D6. Both held.
In the meantime, Persian unit H2 was inflicting grief on the phalangites (P1). Persian H1, the other hoplites, were not doing too well against their opponents. Having said that, HC1 Thessalians were in real trouble, even though the closeness of Alexander meant that they would fight to the last man.
The other unit of Persian heavies now broke, the weight of the large Light Infantry block being too much for them after the combat with the Prodromoi. The Persian Guard Cavalry passed morale again and attacked the Light Infantry. The latter were directly to the front of the Persians, and if a unit is within 8" to one's front, one cannot maoeuvre - it's all or nothing, so in they went.
At the same time, Thessalians HC1 were destroyed, but this had no effect on the imperturbable Companions and the two units of Light Infantry LI1 and LI3, which were effectively operating as Elite morale because of Alexander.
The great man himself was now sweating as his Companions ground down the Persian Guard Infantry, but took copious amounts of damage themselves. Fortunately for the invaders, he kept making his saves in melee.
The Persian Guard cavalry finally broke through the Light Infantry facing them, but failed their control test (even though they were elites) and hared off in pursuit, effectively removing them from the game.
The Persian Guard Infantry also broke, and the Hoplites to their right failed their morale test, becoming disordered in combat. One Companion survived out of the eighteen figures that had started the battle. Alexander elected to stay put, so as to help out with the morale of his battered units.
There ensued a tense couple of turns as the left mercenary hoplites tried to hold out while disordered, and the Macedonian phalanx in this part of the field continued to take a pounding from the other hoplites.
Eventually, however, the left hoplites collapsed and the Thessalians broke through onto the hill. They turned around, which automatically disordered them. They were hoping to re-order in time to take the other hoplites in the back before the phalanx broke. Their battered Light Infantry turned around to get in the way of the Persian Guard Cavalry in case it managed to come back into the battle zone.
Elsewhere, the central phalanxes were catching up to the Persian cavalry in the middle, but the Macedonian Light Infantry were wiped out by superior numbers of Persians on the extreme far flank. The battle could still go either way; the Macedonians could not afford to commit what was left of the Companions, even against the flank of a unit, in case a single hit finished them off. The game was really hanging in the balance.
The phalanx just held with two hits left and the Thessalians hit the hoplites in the rear. At the same time, the central phalanxes started to crunch their way through the Persians in the centre, and it was all over.
Another very close campaign fight that could have gone either way. I found it a strangely stress-free game, despite the closeness, probably because I knew all along that what I was doing was risky from the outset. It was always going to be a fifty-fifty chance of success, and it came incredibly close, with only the one Companion left alive.
This is the first time I've done a more or less turn-by-turn description using Battle Chronicler. It's a shame that I couldn't use photos, but the lighting is so poor at the club that there isn't any point. I hope the diagrams help to illustrate the events, though.
Next week is the club's AGM, so no games then.

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